Easy? What fun would that be?
It is obviously not in the Celtics’ DNA to do anything easy. We’re all kinda used to that. But they established a new standard for convoluted victory Sunday night, scoring 61 points in the first 24 minutes and 32 in the final 29, capping it off by winning an overtime by a 4-2 score.
With their bizarre 93-91 OT victory over the Heat the Celtics have held serve and have tied the Eastern Conference finals at 2-2.
“This series is probably as unconventional a series as I’ve ever been a part of, and as any I’ve seen,’’ said Miami coach Erik Spoelstra.
Yeah, well welcome to the strange world of the 2011-12 Celtics, who back at the All-Star break would have been thrilled just to make the playoffs, and who now stand two victories from what would be the most unexpected trip to the Finals in the team’s 66-year history. To get there they must find a way to win one game in Miami, but right now that’s a story for another day. What took place at TD Garden Sunday night needs a bit of reflection.
We might as well begin at the end, with the Celtics depending on three subs to help them stop Miami from tying or winning the game after a Rajon Rondo free throw had given them a 93-91 lead with 21.4 seconds to go in OT. One of those three subs was Marquis Daniels, who was given the formidable task of guarding Dwyane Wade, who was going to be the Designated Shooter, for sure, mainly because LeBron James was watching from the bench at the opposite end of the floor after fouling out for the first time in four seasons.
What Daniels did was, well, save the game, no more, no less. Wade tried to make one move, but Daniels wouldn’t yield, and with 14 seconds left Daniels gave a foul. When play resumed, Wade went back to work, but he couldn’t really advance the ball, and with the clock winding down he really only had one recourse.
In that type of situation perhaps the only man in the world as good or better at luring a defender into a foul is Paul Pierce, and he, too, was on the bench with six personals.
“I told [Daniels] not to go for the pump fake,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “and he was able to jump out of the way to avoid the foul. I thought on that defensive possession he denied Wade as long as he could.’’
Of course, by jumping out of the way, Daniels had given Wade a very clear look at the basket. He went into a patented step-back move, fired, and watched the ball bounce off the rim.
“Red wasn’t going to let that go in; you know that,’’ said Rivers. “Not in the Boston Garden. I thought it was good, honestly, when it left his hand.’’
Would the Celtics have deserved much sympathy had that shot gone in? That’s a good question. Had they lost, they definitely would have had some ’splainin’ to do.
They broke out of the gate to accumulate such leads as 6-0, 18-4, and 21-6. When Miami launched little counter-attacks, they had sufficient responses. And with 1:31 remaining in the second quarter a Ray Allen 3-pointer gave them a 61-43 lead. Life was good.
Do the math. That’s 61 points in the first 22:29. In the modern NBA, that’s some fancy scoring.
The rest of the game was a taffy pull. At no point did the Celtics re-construct their offense, as they scored 12 points in the third quarter, 16 in the fourth, and a rousing 4 in the overtime, the only basket a fast-break hesitation floater by Rondo with 2:33 remaining. That put them ahead, 92-91, and represented the winning basket.
The Heat weren’t exactly rippling the cords, either. Their only basket of the OT was a left-to-right driving dunk by Udonis Haslem, whose 12 points and 17 rebounds would have earned him some nice press in Miami had the Heat won the game.
Rivers attempted to analyze this Tale of Two Halves affair.
“I thought we came out in the third quarter and tried to give them the knockout punch,’’ he said. “Our execution in the first half was flawless. But we got completely away from it in the second half, we really did.’’
Say this for the Celtics. When Miami took its first lead at 76-74 - the first time the Heat had been ahead since the 28-26 juncture of Game 2’s second period - the Celtics managed to get a grip on themselves, battling back to take leads of 81-78, 87-84, and, finally, 89-86. But in an eerie replay of last year’s Game 4, when Miami had likewise come in with a 2-1 series lead, James hit a game-tying 3 with 37.5 seconds left in regulation, just as he had done a year ago.
Last year Wade and Chris Bosh joined him in putting the Celtics to rest. Miami won in OT and then went home for a fifth-game closeout.
But there’s something in the air with this year’s Celtics, and they’re assured of at least one more game in Boston. Something crazy’s going to happen. Count on it.