Glen Davis trampolined off the floor, somersaulting to his feet and landing with a fit of flexed muscles and vein-popping screams. He’d been knocked to the ground while powering through Jermaine O’Neal but, just like the rest of his team, Davis showed that getting knocked down was nothing but another excuse to bounce back up. Davis’ and-one continued a Celtics run that would later reach 27-7, and gave Boston a 71-68 lead it would never relinquish in an 85-76 win.
For awhile, especially early in the third quarter, the Celtics’ season flashed before their eyes. A loss wouldn’t quite have spelled disaster, but would have been the best indication yet that this campaign was destined to end in an early vacation. It wasn’t just that they were losing; it was that they were losing with the same shoddy effort that characterized the entire season. As Miami’s lead stretched to 14 and the Celtics reverted to the miscues that haunted their first 82 games, the Boston Garden’s excitement drained to boos.
With the air filled with and a heartless atmosphere all too reminiscent of the last four months, an odd thing transpired, something that we’ve discussed quite frequently but never fully believed would happen: The Celtics flipped the switch.
The change was evident in every facet of the game, but nowhere was it as visible as on the defensive end. At times, as the Heat scored merely 10 points during the game’s final 13:50, the Celtics seemed to play seven on five. Tony Allen smothered Dwyane Wade, and the cohesion of the rest of the unit was palpable. When a Heat player saw an opening, it was closed instantly. Jumpers were contested with outstretched arm, and penetration lanes closed rapidly. Beautiful, the Celtics defense was. Hell, they even started to rebound the basketball.
And everything, the gorgeous rotations and wondrous escape from that good ole 14-point deficit, will be overshadowed — at least slightly — by a late-game fracas starring Kevin Garnett and Quentin Richardson. As Paul Pierce lay on the ground, injured, exaggerating or both, Richardson and Garnett started chirping at each other. Harsh words, I’m sure, were spoken and the words escalated to actions. Richardson brushed against Garnett’s body, and Garnett’s left arm shot out behind him and into Richardson’s jaw. As the two teams yelped back and forth, saying a lot but doing very little, Pierce laid on the ground, still injured or exaggerating. He would be fine and stay in the game, but the melee resulted in Garnett’s ejection and a technical foul for Richardson. Garnett’s elbow, while lacking in severity, could put his status for Tuesday night’s game in jeopardy; the NBA league office, I’m sure, will review the incident and decide whether Garnett’s actions warrant a suspension for Tuesday.
The weak brawl will also overshadow some individual performances worthy of merit. Tony Allen’s was one, as he played his best game as a Celtic. Not only did he score 14 points, but he stayed attached to Dwyane Wade’s hip during the second half as the Heat’s momentum slowed to a screeching halt. And you can’t say enough about Rajon Rondo. The flu couldn’t keep him down, and Carlos Arroyo certainly couldn’t. 10 points, 10 assists, and 7 boards for Rondo: just his normal playoff near-triple double.
Three other players stood out while watching, but wouldn’t stand out in the stats. Garnett, before his dismissal, looked as active and mobile as he has since returning from injury this season. He finished with 15 points, 9 rebounds and a few powerful dunks, spear-heading the C’s second-half clampdown in the process. When Garnett was on the bench resting, Glen Davis (8 points, 8 rebounds) took his spot and did him proud. Davis pounced on every rebound, wrestling balls away from opponents who didn’t want it as badly as Davis did. He missed a layup or two and was blocked on a couple other, but nonetheless was integral to the C’s charge. He played so well, in fact, that he finished the game in Kendrick Perkins’ spot. And Paul Pierce, though he shot only 4-12, laced together a few consecutive hoops to help bring the Celtics back from the verge of fishing plans.
The beginning wasn’t pretty, and the Celtics played an average offensive game. But it was the return to the basics, to the style that once made us so proud to call them our own, that showed so much promise.
For while a game one, first-round win means little in the long run, there was something in the Celtics’ resolve — something in their play — that suggested tonight could be the beginning of something greater.