On the last night of a grueling west coast trip, it would’ve been very easy for the Celtics to mail-in last night’s game. But Doc Rivers’ bunch would have nothing of the sort. Behind 26 points from The Captain, Boston fought for a gritty 110-107 OT win.
Chris Forsberg-C’s Send A Message: Never Write Them Off
With the luxury of extended rest looming, Celtics coach Doc Rivers utilized a playoff-like rotation, shortening up his bench even on the second night of a back-to-back while treating this game like a bit of a must-win situation to salvage a frustrating road trip. Pierce simply wouldn’t let this team lose.
“Whatever that is, it was the best win, for me, of the year,” admitted Rivers.
This was a statement game for a Boston team stuck in the mud of the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Celtics had won eight of nine before the All-Star break, but benefitted from a home-heavy schedule and maybe some overachieving in the face of injury woes. This trip out west — particularly with the trade deadline wedged in the middle — was supposed to reveal a lot more about this team.
“Stuck in the mud.” Sounds about right. But last night’s win should go a long way in building confidence for a team that has been up and down all season. It also lets the rest of the NBA know that the C’s aren’t going anywhere.
Just when the rest of the league was ready to dismiss Boston’s potential as a real postseason threat, the Celtics offer a friendly reminder that this team always has to be accounted for.
As I wrote in last night’s recap, young guns like Avery Bradley, Courtney Lee and Jeff Green have been huge in many of Boston’s wins, but last night, it was the Truth and Ticket. Two battle-tested warriors putting the team on their backs:
Down two with 2½ minutes to go in the extra session, Pierce hit a clutch 3-pointer to push Boston back out front. He got the rebound at the other end of the floor, then made a tough 11-foot jumper. After another Jazz miss, Pierce pushed it to seven straight points with another difficult jumper that had Boston out front 106-101 with 72 seconds to play.
And that’s what makes this team so dangerous. Sure, the Celtics’ depth has been eroded from a trio of season-ending injuries over a three-week span and Boston’s role players have been inconsistent at best this season. But 35-year-old Pierce and 36-year-old Garnett just refuse to let this ship sink — and that’s part of the reason Ainge and Co. were reluctant to even entertain the idea of shipping them out last week.
Rivers initially tried to sub out Garnett at the start of the extra session, only for him to talk his way back in. Sure enough, Garnett hit a 19-foot jumper for the first points of the extra session.
“It’s funny, at the start of the overtime I told Brandon [Bass], ‘Go in for Kevin,’ [but] Kevin wouldn’t let me,” Rivers told reporters. “He said, ‘No, no, I’m good.’ I didn’t believe that, but I kept him in and he was terrific.
Say what you will about the age and consistency of Pierce & Garnett, but time & time again, when the chips have been down, these two guys have stepped-up. Doc will have some tough decisions moving forward as far as how much to rest his two stars. In his mind, I think he’d rather have a healthy, rested Truth & Ticket and a lower playoff seed. But the goal at this point is to keep it together, and make the playoffs period. Boston has quite a few road games left on the schedule, and is now 10-18 away from home:
Rivers’ preference for health over victories might not allow the Celtics (30-27) to make much of a move in the East seedings over the final 25 games, but they sit only three games back of the No. 4 seed Hawks and Nets (and five games back of the Atlantic Division-leading Knicks with two head-to-head matchups looming). As Rivers declared in Phoenix the other night, the Celtics simply want to “be a seed.”
A seed that no one else is going to want to dig up in the playoffs. With Pierce and Garnett at the helm, this team remains determined and dangerous. They reminded the rest of the league of that with Monday’s win.
The rest of the links:
Herald: Experiment In Osmosis Can Veteran Celtics Stars Save New Duo C’s End on Winning Note | ESPN Boston: C’s Send Message C’s Get Two Days of Rest | Globe: Win is Breath of Fresh Air | CSNNE: Bradley Makes Mark on Offense |