Paul Pierce was in foul trouble. Open shots weren’t falling. LeBron James was on fire. The Celtics needed help from their bench. Desperately.
It never came.
On a night when James’s 45-point explosion silenced a TD Garden crowd that during pregame introductions topped 100 decibels, Boston’s bench was equally quiet during a 98-79 loss in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals.
The Celtics reserves, who played key roles in Game 5, contributed just 2 points before coach Doc Rivers pulled his starters midway through the fourth quarter.
According to Keyon Dooling, the lack of production was more about the Heat’s defensive scheming than it was a lack of effort by the bench.
“We contributed in a lot of different categories, just not in the scoring category today,’’ Dooling said. “Their defense was so good tonight I think it was hard for us to score.’’
Miami’s aggressiveness and pressure rendered opportunities for Boston’s bench few and far between.
“We missed some easy shots. We turned the ball over a couple times. Every time we tried to get over the hump, we just didn’t,’’ Rajon Rondo said. “Instead of [the deficit] going down to 8, it went back up to 15.’’
With James handling the scoring load (30 points in the first half), Miami’s reserves combined for just 13, all but 4 in garbage time. Not that it mattered.
“Listen, when a guy comes out and throws a barrage on you like that, that takes some energy out of you,’’ Rivers said. “And maybe it’s as simple as that. I don’t think so, but you just never know.’’
Save Marquis Daniels, who finished with 8 points, all in the fourth quarter, the Celtics bench shot 3 for 10, and 0 for 4 from beyond the arc.
“I think they just did things with more force than us, more [aggressiveness] than us, and with more will than us,’’ Dooling said. “That’s just how it felt to me.’’
There were moments, however, when it appeared that Rivers’s reserves could provide a necessary spark to cut the deficit to single digits. With 3:16 left in the third quarter, James received a technical for spiking the ball after a Rondo putback. On the ensuing possession, Mickael Pietrus drew a charge from Shane Battier, then tipped in a Pierce miss.
But that was all the bench could muster offensively until Rivers decided to rest his starters for Saturday’s Game 7 at AmericanAirlines Arena.
Rivers finished the game with a lineup of Daniels, Sasha Pavlovic, Ryan Hollins, E’Twaun Moore, and Sean Williams as the remaining fans mustered a chant of “Let’s Go Celtics’’ that seemed more of a loyal send-off than excitement.
But standing by his locker, Dooling reiterated a sentiment scrawled on the Celtics’ whiteboard, one echoed by Rivers following the game.
“They’re not just going to pack for Sunday,’’ Rivers said. “They’re going to bring suits for Tuesday, and they’re going to bring suits for Thursday. And that’s the way we’re going to plan to do it.’’
Finding a way to heighten bench contributions will undoubtedly factor into the plan as well.