Do you know that taste you get when you throw up in your mouth? Yeah, that’s kind of what tonight’s 89-87 Celtics loss felt like.
The weird thing is, I want to be happy with their performance. They could have quit at halftime. Down ten points, 50-40, on the road, in the second night of a back-to-back, it was the perfect time to mail in a second half. In the same situation, Vince Carter probably would have faked an injury, left the bench and taken a nap on the team airplane. Mentally, the Celtics could have started to prepare for Miami on Thursday.
But no. Not tonight. Too much pride. The Celtics laced up their Timberlands in the second half and went to work. Obviously, not everything went perfectly — hell, a couple stretches of shoddy execution in the fourth quarter had me cursing at my TV like Bobby Knight in his prime — but the effort was there. And it was almost enough. It just barely wasn’t.
Which is where the taste of vomit in my mouth came from. The Celtics surged ahead 80-74 with 7:24 seconds left before coming up empty on seven — seven! — straight possessions. It was like the Celtics offense meets The Twilight Zone. Still, they had a chance to win. By the time they next scored, four minutes and eleven seconds later, the Celtics were even still winning! But Dirk Nowitzki, as Nowitzki tends to do, got loose. More importantly, the Celtics couldn’t do anything right come crunch time.
You could say the Celtics lost this game in the first half or in the aforementioned seven possession stretch of the fourth quarter. You would probably be right. You could also say the game came down to the final three possessions. You would also be right.
With the score tied 87-87 and 1:13 left, the Celtics had a chance to regain the lead. Ray Allen missed an open jumper on the wing (great look), but Rajon Rondo made a godly effort to track down the offensive rebound. He dribbled the ball outside and passed to Pierce to reset the offense. Pierce methodically worked his way into the middle of the paint, drawing two defenders before laying a pass down to Kevin Garnett for an open layup. Garnett rose to finish the easy look, but suddenly it wasn’t so easy anymore. Tyson Chandler had quickly rotated back to Garnett and bumped Garnett in the back as he contested Garnett’s shot. It was a small bump, nothing that should be called in a game’s final minute, but it was enough to force a miss. The Celtics had managed to find two fairly open looks on the same play, yet missed them both.
Dallas rebounded Garnett’s miss and dribbled downcourt. A simple big-to-big cross-screen (Chandler set a pick for Nowitzki) “forced” a Celtics switch, so that Glen Davis ended up defending Nowitzki. I say “forced” in quotation marks because the Celtics didn’t HAVE to switch. Garnett could have fought over the screen and stayed with Nowitzki. He didn’t though, and so Nowitzki was left staring over the head of the all-too-short Glen Davis. Davis did an admirable job staying close, but it was too easy for Dirk. It was like taking candy from a (Big) Baby. (Get it?) One simple jab step gave Nowitzki space, and he shot the game-winning jumper over Davis’s extended arm. Ray Allen tried to offer help once he saw that Big Baby was overmatched, but it was too little too late. Nowitzki had already released his deadly jumper.
The Celtics had two more chances to tie the game, but to say they executed them poorly would only be politically correct. To be more accurate, their last two opportunities were cluster fucks. First, the Celtics tried to do God knows what as Rondo dribbled outside. They tried to set two screens for Ray Allen and neither screen made contact on Allen’s man. When that didn’t work, two Celtics sprinted toward Rondo to set screens. Rondo dribbled around both of them and no defender followed, but Paul Pierce was right smack dab in Rondo’s way. Looking around with few other options, Rondo decided to release a potentially game-winning three. Yes, that’s right. With the game on the line and six seconds still remaining, Rajon Rondo willingly shot a three-pointer. Dear lord.
Obviously, he missed. The Celtics rebounded the brick and Ray Allen dribbled outside to begin his move. Before he could start, Jason Terry grabbed him. I cannot overstate how perfect the foul was. The Mavs had one foul to give, and only 1.5 seconds remained in the game. When Doc Rivers’s ensuing inbounds play resulted in nothing more than a Garnett fadeaway prayer, Dallas had escaped with the win. And the Celtics? They had let a very winnable game slip right through their misexecuting fingers. (Is misexecuting even a word? I don’t think so. But it fits.)
The end overshadowed the nice second-half comeback, which was led by Garnett. I hate to say the cliche “he was everywhere,” but I can’t think of one place Garnett wasn’t. It seemed like he deflected every pass. He also caught three alley-oops, hit a few jumpers, and rebounded everything in his line of vision. If only he could have defended Nowitzki on the last play, maybe things could have been different.
While Garnett was the comeback’s spiritual leader, Pierce and Rondo weren’t very shabby. Rondo did what Rondo does. He ran the offense beautifully, found every open man he could, and registered his normal, ho-hum 15 assists. He also turned the ball over four times, but that’s also what Rondo does. Pierce poured in 25 points, including 12 in the third-quarter turnaround, and shot 10-19 from the floor. But it wasn’t enough. Not after the C’s late-game execution.
And don’t forget about the dreadful first half. I spent about five minutes trying to think of a proper metaphor for it:
Mucus? Butt holes? An Andris Biedrins free throw? A Tony Allen jumper? Sam Cassell?
I finally figured out I didn’t need a metaphor. All I had to do was note that Tyson Chandler registered 10 points and nine rebounds by halftime. Yuck. I don’t even want to begin discussing the rest of the first half. The Celtics attempted to make watching paint dry fashionable.
Still, I think I would rather watch the first half again then revisit the chaos of the final possession. Dear lord.
(Two more quick notes: Jermaine O’Neal didn’t play the second half. The knee he had surgery on acted up. Those O’Neals sure are durable, huh? Also, Nate Robinson escaped my wrath only because the ending brought too much material. Don’t think I forgot about that stinker, Nate. People don’t forget.)