Jason Richardson couldn’t miss, and Jameer Nelson stopped to shovel his scorching-hot teammate a pass. Richardson’s primary defender was lost behind a screen, and a three-pointer would have tied the back-and-forth game at 107-107.
Except the ball never found Richardson. Before it could, there was Kevin Garnett’s spaghetti strand arm, reaching in to poke the pass away and ultimately steal it. Garnett floated a pass to Ray Allen, who was fouled and made two free throws to seal Boston’s 109-106 win.
Have you seen a better-played NBA game this season? This was Rocky vs. Apollo Creed, two heavyweights duking it out, throwing haymaker after haymaker while somehow managing to stand on their feet for a full 15 rounds — or, in this case, 48 minutes. If you look at the stats and never watched the game, you would expect two abysmal defenses forgetting rotations left and right, leaving shooters wide open and dunkers underneath the basket unimpeded. But for the majority of the night, this was just two efficient offenses getting the better of stiff defensive units.
Look at the fourth quarter. Every play was an adventure. Hedo Turkoglu would drain a fadeaway three-pointer, then Ray Allen would come back and drill one from the corner. Jameer Nelson would come off a pick-and-roll to hit an elbow jumper, then Paul Pierce would step back, up fake, and drill an and-one. Every shot had an answer, every great play was followed by its equal or better.
Think this game meant something special? Check Dwight Howard and KG, jawing at each other the whole game. Check Jason Richardson, killing himself — quite futilely — to fight over screens. Check Ray Allen, throwing out three fingers in front of the Orlando Magic bench, after a late three-point make. Check Paul Pierce, wild’ing out after his late and one. Check Stan Van Gundy, telling his players they need a little extra in a game like this. Check Doc Rivers, uncharacteristically losing his shit after Ryan Anderson — yes, Ryan Anderson — went off.
The way Boston plays with KG, you wonder how they get by when he’s not around. We talk about his defense a lot, because he’s one of the league’s best defenders and has been for 15 years. But what about the offense? These Celtics just shot 60% against the NBA’s fourth-most efficient defense. They moved the ball so splendidly, so gorgeously, so beautifully, that I almost wept tears of joy.
One play in the fourth quarter exhibited both the Garnett effect and the Celtics’ pristine offense. Ray Allen caught a pass on the right wing, outside the three-point arc. Since Ray’s hit 19 million straight jump shots since the New Year began (or something like that), Ryan Anderson decided to jump at Ray while Jason Richardson chased him to catch up. Allen, not looking to force offense despite the flames jumping from his right hand, rifled a pass to KG at the free throw line. A defender ran to stop KG, but the Celtics had numbers because Ray drew two defenders. KG mustered all his unselfishness and great court vision in his wiry body, sending a pass to the open Glen Davis underneath the hoop. Davis would not make the layup, but his free throws were a result of the C’s rare collective unselfishness.
Though the C’s gave up 106 points, I have few complaints about their defensive output. Intensity was high and, for the most part, the execution wasn’t bad. My one major qualm was this: If you single-team Dwight Howard, that’s fine. He can score 33 points and haul in 13 rebounds, and you can live with that because his teammates don’t get open for three. But when you single-team Dwight Howard and his teammates still get loose from behind the arc, there’s something wrong. You allow one to take away the other. If Howard has 33, his teammates should be tossing bricks with hands waving in their faces. If his teammates make 11 threes and shoot 41% from the land of Antoine Walker, Howard shouldn’t find scoring so easy.
But my complaints, after this night, are slim and few. The Celtics just won one of the season’s most well-played games, and they did it in a way I couldn’t have scripted any better. Garnett looked completely healthy in his return. Ray Allen continues to shoot the ball like it’s a net-seeking missile. Rondo posted yet another double-double. Glen Davis returned to his bench role with grace. Shaq continued to display a pulse. And Paul Pierce continues to be The Mother-Fucking Truth.
In the Celtics’ locker room on Friday night, Nate Robinson asked Marquis Daniels, “Who we playing on Monday?”
Daniels told him they were playing Orlando, and Robinson, who shot 2-15 against Orlando on Christmas Day, responded, “Good. I owe them [dudes].” (Note: The word Robinson actually used was one I can’t ever say, and especially not on Martin Luther King Day.)
Robinson didn’t do his part. He shot 2-8, and took a couple shots that probably had Red Auerbach rolling over in his grave.
But he and his team owed Orlando one, and, if you ask me, that debt’s been paid back. Mr. Garnett, it’s nice to have you back.