I used to call balls Sam Cassells. You know, like, “Damn, that shot was clutch. He really showed some Sam Cassells on that one.” But after Ali Farokhmanesh drained a pullup three with almost a full shot clock and only 35 seconds standing between his Northern Iowa team and an upset of the number one-ranked Kansas Jayhawks, I will now call balls Farokhmaneshes.
Tonight, the Celtics showed a huge pair of Farokhmaneshes that they’ve been lacking all season long, overcoming a seven-point fourth-quarter deficit to run their winning streak to four games. For the Celtics, the winning formula was very familiar: Timely defense spearheaded by Kevin Garnett, scoring from Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and an elite floor game from Rajon Rondo.
It was the starting five that won this game for Boston. Pierce had the lowest +/- of any Celtic starter, and he ended up with 29 points, 5 assists, 3 boards, and 2 steals. Oh, and that “lowest +/-” he registered? It was +16. Pierce was phenomenal on both ends of the court, showcasing his improved health with an array of drives to the hoop, creating easy buckets and earning 10 trips to the charity stripe.
But Pierce wasn’t the only starter inflicting damage on the Mavericks. Ray Allen scored 21 points, hitting a number of momentum-turning shots. Rondo was aggressive early and often, scoring 20 points and 10 rebounds. Kendrick Perkins got the better of Brendan Haywood, finishing with 11 points and 6 rebounds. Even Garnett, limited to a paltry 8 points and 9 rebounds, was as active defensively as Tiger Woods is when he’s off the golf course. Garnett seemed to get his hands on every loose ball, deflecting passes and snuffing fast break opportunities. The starters played as good a game as they have all season long, and — against a very good Dallas team — it was a damn good thing.
Don’t get it twisted, either. The Dallas team Boston beat tonight is a title contender. When you combine the way Jason Kidd instinctively passes the ball upcourt, pushing the tempo and allowing his teammates to create plays, with the amount of weapons the Mavericks have, you wind up with a dangerous concoction. Top it off with Dirk Nowitzki playing perhaps the best basketball of his career, and these Mavericks are a damn good team capable of beating any opponent in a 7-game series.
They just couldn’t get it done against Boston tonight. Not with Paul Pierce attacking the hoop and doing the things that have made him so successful. Not with the Celtics playing like, well, the Celtics. Wins like this were the calling card of the Celtics of old. They kept the game close, manufactured stops when they needed them, and called on Pierce and Allen whenever a bucket was necessary. Tonight was a return to that, and it was oh so satisfying.
After the game, Pierce said, “We’re trying to gather momentum for the playoffs. I’m healthy, Kevin’s healthy, and we’re ready to roll.”
It’s sure starting to seem like he’s right.