One fer seven. That was Ray Allen’s shooting night before 24.5 seconds remained on the clock, at which time Allen ran off his teammates’ screens, sprinted — not ran — to the corner, and released a long two-point shot over his defender’s fingertips. Make it two fer eight, and give the Celtics an 84-82 lead.
After Kevin Garnett grabbed a defensive rebound, slammed the ball off his head a number of times, and made the second of two free throws (making the score 85-82), the Detroit Pistons would have one more chance to tie the game. Glen Davis’ “hands straight up” defense forced a Ben Gordon miss, and one Davis free throw resulted in the game’s 86-82 final.
Ray may steal the headlines, but don’t forget about Shaq.
I expected a lot of things from Shaq this season. Mostly, I expected lazy pick-and-roll defense, miserable free throw shooting, and conditioning (or lack thereof) that would leave him playing at “Sheed speed.” What I didn’t expect, not ever, not in a million years, was that — on a night when the Celtics needed energy like Richard Hamilton needs a change of scenery — Shaq would become his team’s San Diego Chargers logo. In other words, their lightning bolt.
It wasn’t just the stats Shaq posted. It was the effort. He tumbled out of bounds to block a Rodney Stuckey shot. Valiantly contested many other shots, even pinning a would-have-been-easy T-Mac shot off the glass. He ripped rebounds away from the Pistons. He danced after making and-ones, and sprinted backcourt — a la Sammy Sosa sprinting to right field — after completing three-point plays. This was Shaq as I never expected to see him, Shaq as I couldn’t have possibly dreamed he would be.
For awhile, it felt like 2006 all over again. Paul Pierce, or nothing — and nobody — else.
That’s not even necessarily a good thing for Pierce. He forced a few shots on his way to the rim, resulting in shots blocked or missed. It’s hard to blame Pierce for his extra aggression; his team desperately needed some sort of boost, and he was the only one willing to step up. And he scored 22 points, too, while shooting an efficient 8-15 from the field. He was also, for much of tonight, the only Celtic who cared to show up.
The second unit tried. They tried to rally the Boston Celtics, to finally strike the TD Garden with a jolt of electricity. Semih Erden slammed the ball through the rim on two straight Celtics possessions, and Nate Robinson and Glen Davis followed with energizing buckets of their own.
But if you let an NBA team stay close, no matter how “15-26″ that team may be to enter the game, that team builds confidence. So the Pistons answered every strike the Celtics’ second unit sent their way.
But when Shaq strikes, he strikes hard, and the Pistons had no answer for that. On this night, Shaq’s teammates needed him to provide something he doesn’t always.
“The whole team was flat,” he said. “I just had to pick it up. I’m not really playing a lot of minutes. I’m not really tired. We haven’t been rebounding the ball that well. I just tried to get every loose ball and when I got back in the fourth quarter and we were down ten (note: actually eight), I just had to get everybody involved.”
“We were down ten and I just felt like I had to do something,” Shaq added. “Dive on the floor, knock people around — I think that helped a little bit.”
It sure did.