Note: I couldn’t find game tape of the play I’m about to describe. It wasn’t on any highlight reel I searched for. I’m not even sure my description is accurate. But it’s how I remember it, and when players get traded the memories are all that remain.
I remember one Eddie House play above all others. Strangely, it wasn’t a three-pointer. It wasn’t even a jumper. It was a hustle play that helped save the Boston Celtics’ 2008 championship season.
House had been mostly finding splinters on the bench, as Sam Cassell earned playing time backing up Rajon Rondo. House had been pretty steady all year, a weapon off the bench, but Cassell was the midseason pickup Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge felt would give Boston its best chance to succeed in the postseason. Eddie sat there, patiently waiting his turn to play, as Cassell took Boston completely out of its offense with ill-advised jumper after ill-advised jumper. Clank, clank, clank, went Cassell’s shots. Yet Eddie did nothing but cheer from the bench. The disappointment that must have festered within him did nothing to change the fact that Eddie House would always back his teammates.
Finally, Rivers had seen enough of Cassell’s bricks. He called on his mini sharp-shooter, the man with perhaps the quickest release in all of basketball. I was excited to see House in the game, and I knew he could hit a string of threes to put the Cavs out of reach. I understood that even if he were to shoot poorly, the offense would run a lot more smoothly under House than it did under Cassell. The simple effects of being a team player.
House didn’t get hot that day. He shot only 1-5 from the floor. A man whose biggest impact on his team was shooting shot horribly. But he made up for it in other ways.
A scorned defender, Eddie raced around screens — even with his little, choppy steps — to cover shooters. A notoriously poor ball-handler, he committed only one turnover. Even shooting poorly, Eddie House was a player you could win with. He spaced the floor, worked his ass off, and once in a while would get hotter than a burning bonfire. Despite his weak statistical contributions that day, House provided Boston with a spark and energy Cassell never did.
One play, in particular, stood out above all the rest. It’s still the first thing that comes to mind when I think of Eddie House. I don’t even remember what quarter the play was in. I think it was the third or fourth but, in all honesty, it could have been the first or second.
A loose ball wandered off into the Cavs’ backcourt. Wally Szczerbiak raced after the ball as fast as Wally Szczerbiak could. House was about ten feet behind him. As Wally chased the ball, it became obvious that his surgically-altered knees weren’t going to allow him to catch up to the ball. It was going to end up out of bounds, where the Celtics would retain possession.
But House wasn’t going to settle for that. Suddenly, his little legs were churning like they never had before. With an surreal effort, he caught up to Szczerbiak, eventually passing him. Still, it looked like the ball was going to end up out of bounds. That’s when House reached back for whatever effort he had in reserves. He sprawled across the floor, reaching the ball a foot or two before it reached the endline. As he tumbled on the ground, he somehow managed to flip the ball back to James Posey before rolling into the first row of stands.
Posey ended up getting fouled, and would go to the line. Not even a made field goal resulted from House’s hustle. But the Garden’s roar was all you needed to hear to understand the play’s impact. Boston wasn’t going to get outworked. Not at home. Not in Game Seven. Not if Eddie House had anything to say about it.
Without House, the Celtics might not have won the championship that season. He played some big minutes when Rajon Rondo struggled. In the finals, House hit some pressure-filled shots to keep L.A. at bay.
He’s hit countless shots since that playoff run. He even set the Celtics’ single-season record for three-point percentage last year. Most of the time, House helped the team with that oh-so-quick release and that streaky but wonderful jumpshot of his.
But he did other things, too, and that’s what endeared him to the Celtics fanbase. A lot of guys can hit jumpers. Yet House was special because he did it with the enthusiasm and joy of his nine-year old son, Jaelen.
I’m excited for Nate Robinson, and I think he improves Boston’s chances of having a strong playoff run.
But I’ll miss Eddie House, his quick release, and all his excitability.
Good luck, Eddie.
UPDATE: Reader Kate Kelleher has been kind enough to supply me the YouTube video. My memory was actually pretty good, sans the quarter it was in. Here it is: