April 10, 2012
Game 57: Boston Celtics (33-24) at Miami Heat (40-16)
On December 27, the Boston Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Sasha Pavlovic, Kevin Garnett and Jermaine O’Neal in the second game of their season, a 115-107 loss to the Miami Heat. Brandon Bass, Keyon Dooling and Marquis Daniels combined for 40 points in 75 minutes off the bench. The Celtics allowed 69 points in the first half and trailed by as many as 20 points in the third quarter. According to Hayes Davenport at CelticsHub, “they were outrebounded, outshot, and overwhelmed by the defense.”
On April 1, the Boston Celtics started Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett in the rematch and absolutely eviscerated their opponent. Greg Stiemsma, Keyon Dooling and Sasha Pavlovic combined for 13 points in 58 minutes off the bench. The Celtics scored 91 points and held an offense that presently averages 100.3 points per game on 47.4% shooting to seasons lows of 72 points and 34.8% shooting.
On April 10: the rubber match. Prior to the opening tip, ESPN’s Heather Cox reported that the Miami Heat, still feeling the sting of the recent walloping, were possessed of “a certain vibe, a certain level of motivation … [an] intensity [that was] definitely heightened.”
They were intense, alright. So intense, in fact, that they allowed first quarter runs of 10-0 and 16-2, ultimately surrendering 115 points to a team whose season average of 91.9 is the fifth-lowest in the league. The Celtics blistered Miami’s defense, connecting on a staggering 60.6% of their field goals and 64.3% of their threes on their way to a 115-107 win.
Master chef Rajon Rondo turned in 18 points and 15 assists, remarkably hitting all six of his field goals from a distance of 10 feet or further. Death’s visage Kevin Garnett vaporized the last few faint whispers that his time has come and gone with 24 points on 11-14 shooting. Paul Pierce scored a team-high 27 points, collected seven rebounds, and reminded us all that the Truth is indeed out there.
The key stretch of the game spanned just over five minutes in the fourth quarter. With 10:08 on the clock, the Miami Heat scored their 87th and 88th points of the game off an eight-footer from Chris Bosh, completing a four-minute 11-1 run. They had not held the lead since the first quarter, and had fallen behind by as much as 18 in the second. They now trailed by a single point. Here’s what happened next:
10:07: Along with the bucket, Bosh drew a foul from Euro sensation Sasha Pavlovic, who had attempted to block his shot from behind. Bosh’s free throw bounces off the front of the rim and is rebounded by Garnett. Boston 89, Miami 88.
On the floor for the Heat: Mario Chalmers, Dwyane Wade, Shane Battier, Chris Bosh and Udonis Haslem. For the Celtics: Avery Bradley, Ray Allen, Sasha Pavlovic, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett.
9:41: With eight seconds remaining on the shot clock, Ray Allen swings the ball to Maximus from Gladiator Brandon Bass just above the corner, inside of the arc. Bass pivots on his left foot and, with less than four seconds remaining, starts to back Dwyane Wade toward the basket. With three seconds left, Wade absorbs a blow from Bass’ shoulder and flops on to his back. Bass loses his dribble, recovers, pivots to face the basket and releases a jumper over the outstretched hands of Wade, who had leapt back to his feet, and Mario Chalmers, who soared in to help off the flop. The ball splashed through the net with less than a second to spare. Boston 91, Miami 88.
9:31: Brandon Bass is called for a defensive three-second violation. Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce replace Bradley and Pavlovic. Wade sinks the technical free throw. Boston 91, Miami 89.
9:00: The Heat work an open baseline jumper for Haslem, which rims out and is rebounded by Garnett. Rajon Rondo advances the ball past the half-court line. Ray Allen, guarded by Chalmers, jogs from the deep corner to the free throw circle, where he stops and momentarily leans on Dwyane Wade, as though he is setting a screen on him. Chalmers pulls to a stop next to him, seeming unsure of what to do next.
Ray puts down a stutter step and bursts to the wing above the arc. This maneuver served to set Wade up as an inadvertent screener on Chalmers, who can’t get clear of his own teammate to keep up with his man. Chalmers sags below Wade and is hit with a secondary screen from Paul Pierce. By the time he recovers, Ray has already gotten the ball from Rondo and knocked down a wide open three. Miami calls time out. Boston 94, Miami 89.
8:36: LeBron James has entered the game for Udonis Haslem. On the ensuing possession, he posts Paul Pierce on the elbow and calls for the ball. Off the catch, he turns and faces up his man. He feints with a jab step, feints once more, then releases a jump shot that caroms off the back of the rim.
Rondo collects the rebound and advances the ball. The Celtics’ primary action is to send Ray Allen on a wheel route: he curls from the top of the circle down along the baseline, hoping to lose Wade on a low-block screen from Brandon Bass and find an open jump shot somewhere on the wing.
The Bass screen creates an interesting domino effect, which starts with Shane Battier stepping away from Bass to make sure that Ray doesn’t get that open look. This leaves Brandon wide open underneath the basket. Seeing this, Chris Bosh drops into the paint to defend against an assault at the rim. This leaves Kevin Garnett, who makes his living off these shots, wide open for a jumper just above the elbow, which he knocks down with ease.
Speaking to the Palm Beach Post after the game, Bosh would say of Garnett: “uncontested jumpers are layups for him.” Too right. I got a hunch, fat man, I can’t miss; Boston 96, Miami 89.
8:01: In atonement for the defensive miscue, Bosh collects the ball off the low block, backs Bass into the paint and hits him with an up-fake. Bass bites, leaping into the air to contest the phantom shot. Bosh clears the ball and elevates into the contact. His shot rims out, but he sinks both free throws. Boston 96, Miami 91.
7:37: Out of options after running some dead-end action for the first 20 seconds of the possession, Rondo gets the ball to Garnett just inside the extended elbow. As Garnett catches the pass, Bosh over-commits by running straight out at him. Garnett takes one dribble down the sideline and puts up a jump shot with three seconds left on the shot clock. Bosh recovers to get a hand in his face, but it’s too little, too late. Garnett leans back on one leg and pumps his fist as the shot falls through the net, like a home run hitter watching a 400-foot bomb just stay fair. Six in the corner; Boston 98, Miami 91.
7:11: The Miami crowd lets out a disappointed groan as a driving layup from LeBron rattles out of the basket. Pierce snares the rebound and flips it out to Rondo, who breaks out into a run. Garnett and Bass are a stride or two ahead on either side of the court; Chalmers paces tight to Rondo’s body, with Bosh, Wade and Battier well ahead to protect the rim. Just past half-court, Rondo finds another gear and sprints hard at the basket, pulling Chalmers down with him and forcing Bosh to commit to the rim. Garnett pulls to a stop just inside the extended elbow, catches Rondo’s no-look flip, and smoothly knocks down the uncontested jumper. This table’s mine. Boston 100, Miami 91.
6:58: Mario Chalmers is called for an offensive foul away from the ball, shoving his hand into Garnett’s face as he attempts to set a baseline screen for Battier.
6:41: Garnett sets an off-the-ball screen for Pierce, who catches Rondo’s pass on a curl toward the basket from the wing, and elevates for a jumper just above the elbow. Chalmers, Wade and Bosh are clustered around Pierce, which means that, preposterously, Garnett is left wide open just inside the extended elbow. You know where it’s going. Boston 102, Miami 91.
6:16: LeBron drives into contact from Pierce, putting up a jumper as he does so. He misses the shot, but sinks one of his two free throws. Boston 102, Miami 92.
5:56: On the ensuing possession, Rondo swings the ball to Allen in the corner, who sends a bounce pass to Garnett on the block, whose attempt at a reset pass to Rondo is deflected into the hands of Brandon Bass, who bails out to Paul Pierce above the arc. Guarded by Wade, Pierce up-fakes, dribbles one step in, back-spins, pivots face-forward, makes one more forward move and then drains a step-back J with a hand in his face. Boston 104, Miami 92.
The Celtics’ 12-point lead would be the largest they would hold for the rest of the game, and would prove insurmountable for the Heat. Miami would whittle it down to five with just under two minutes to play, but would never get closer.
Boston is now 33-24, two games short of the Eastern Conference’s three-seed, and have folks who preached the maintenance of an even keel during the Celtics’ early-season struggles looking mighty wise indeed.
With 1:55 remaining in the first quarter, LeBron James was called for a shooting foul on Paul Pierce and nearly exploded the Post-Foul Exasperation Rating Scale machine. His reaction rated about a billion on a scale of one (Greg Stiemsma) to 10 (Blake Griffin).
For more of Paul Pierce’s facial expressions, see Episode 24 of the Chronicles.
Speaking of which, in case you’ve forgotten, Paul Pierce still has the best smile in the business.
“The changes began for Boston when Kevin Garnett went into the starting lineup as the center. Bass became the starting power forward. And then, when Ray Allen was hurt, A-ver-y Bradley went in as the starting two-guard and played sensational defense. Doc Rivers talks about how well Bradley moves without the ball, cutting to the basket, getting layups. Ray Allen now coming off the bench, giving the second unit another weapon, and all of a sudden, the pieces have really fit into place.” -Dan Shulman
With the Celtics now getting some legitimate title contender buzz and Avery firmly entrenched in the starting lineup, Dr. B. is starting to get some serious press. On Monday, John Hollinger wrote that Avery’s insertion into the starting five has been the final piece that has elevated the Celtics’ “already excellent defense [to an] absolutely terrifying one.” He made Avery a first-team selection to his NBA All-Defense team, putting him on a list with LeBron James, Kevin Garnett, Tyson Chandler and Andre Iguodala.
On TrueHoop, Henry Abbott posted Hollinger’s key supporting data along with a personal recollection of the Celtics’ selection of Avery in the 2010 draft. Today at Grantland, Bill Simmons wrote at length about him in his “Rebirth of the Celtics” article. In Episode 25, we mentioned the rave reviews he garnered from Jeff Van Gundy and Mike Breen during the April 1 broadcast of the Celtics-Heat game. The outpouring of love continued on Tuesday, as Hubie Brown and Dan Shulman lauded his defense, and the development of his offensive game.
“Now, how many people said this guy couldn’t shoot, right?” –Hubie Brown
Avery turned in yet another solid performance on Tuesday, scoring 11 points, including the Celtics’ first five, in 25 minutes of action. Avery notched his first points on his second shot attempt of the game, spotting up for a wide open corner three at the 10:27 mark. Avery is not known for his three-point shooting, but may be soon; through his first 74 NBA games, he was 1-17 (5.9%) from downtown. Over the last 11 games, he’s 7-16 (43.8%).
Speaking of speed in the open court, Avery got his second bucket 90 seconds later, collecting a swatted shot courtesy of Brandon Bass and getting his dribble down under a full head of steam. As he crossed half court, he sprinted through a keyhole between Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, getting ahead of the pack for a one-handed jam.
With 7:40 remaining in the second quarter, he and Ray Allen blew the dust off what we like to call the old give-and-get. From just to the right of the top of the key, Avery sent a pass to Ray, who was coming off a screen from the corner to the wing. Ray’s momentum carried him to a spot just to the left of the top of the key, where he squared up for a jump shot. The mere fact that Ray was locked on to the rim drew coverage from two defenders, plus the attention of Mario Chalmers, who was tasked with guarding Bradley. Now reduced to low-priority status by the Heat’s defense, Avery was free to slide into a comfortable spot on the wing. Ray swung the ball back and Avery calmly sank the open jumper.
“When you talk to the people in Boston, whether it’s the coaching staff or television people, they’ll tell you that he is the best on-the-ball defender that they’ve ever had in Boston.” –Hubie Brown
While he didn’t turn in any firework plays ala the epic block he laid on Dwyane Wade during the previous matchup, Avery was, once again, very strong on the defensive end. The signature play of the game went like this:
First Quarter, 5:58: Dwyane Wade runs Avery through the paint, attempting to lose him via a Ronny Turiaf screen as he makes his way to the ball side wing. Avery catches up to his man as he collects his pass and clamps down on his back. Wade faces up on Bradley, makes a move forward and to the right, plants his foot in the paint, and pivots. Avery stays tight to his body, knees bent, back straight, hands up. Wade throws an up-fake, which Avery doesn’t bite at. With no dribble, no available outlet and the shot clock winding down, Wade is forced to misfire on a contested, twisting, fade-away jumper.
Here’s Avery’s line from the game:
The Celtics followed up Tuesday night’s victory with a purportedly ugly overtime win over the Atlanta Hawks. After an off-day on Thursday, they play three in a row against the Raptors, Nets and Bobcats. Check back in with the Kuts sometime this weekend to get your next dose.