My girlfriend noticed it first, because I normally don’t spend much time examining Doc Rivers’ face — Doc had two massive bags under his eyes, which extended almost to the bottom of his nose. I’m very imperceptive when it comes to Doc’s looks, so maybe he always has the bags. In my mind, though, I imagined Doc pulling all-nighters the past few days, wondering how to get his team on track, searching for any way to motivate his troops, pouring over game tape and his own mental notes for the answers.
Because Doc knows. He knows how much Boston needed tonight’s win. He knows his team needs to get back on track, and quickly. He knows Boston needs the first seed, not just for home-court advantage but also to avoid the Miami/Chicago winner until the Eastern Conference finals. The Celtics would never say it publicly, of course, but they’re terrified of losing the top seed. They have nightmares of the Bulls, and maybe the Heat too.
How do I know this? Because Rajon Rondo continues to play, despite a myriad of injuries that have caused his player rating to drop off the table. Because only eight Celtics played tonight, even though Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy could certainly use extra time to get acclimated to a new system. Because Doc called a timeout 1:15 into the second half, to demand better effort. Because Doc could be seen fist-pumping after a Glen Davis bucket, as if the Celtics had just won the NBA Finals — and Davis’ bucket was in the third quarter.
I can’t overstate the impact Davis had on tonight’s game — actually, I probably could, and maybe I even will. But he was phenomenal, in ways his terrific box score line could not begin to describe. Sadly, I don’t spend nearly enough time lauding Davis’ defense. Once a question mark on the gritty side of the court (and maybe even a question mark-explanation point-question mark — like this: ?!?), Davis now disrupts everything the other team attempts to do. He takes charges, and many of them. But he also makes contributions in ways that are far less noticeable. A quick rotation to David West to force an extra pass. A strong closeout when Chris Paul got an otherwise open three-pointer. A number of deflected passes. After one timeout, Davis could be seen roaring at the away crowd. But he didn’t need to bring any attention to his play; it spoke volumes for itself.
Davis and his bench buddies Delonte West and Jeff Green led a comeback victory on a night the Celtics seemed destined for their fifth loss in seven games. On a night when Marco Belinelli drank whatever Jimmer’s having. On a night when Rondo was once again pedestrian (to be kind), Paul Pierce made one measly shot, and Nenad Krstic scored as many points as the couch on which I’m currently seated. On a night when the Celtics trailed by fifteen points early in the third quarter, and (at that point) arguably looked even worse than they had last night against the Rockets.
I look back to one play as the turning point, though I could point out many other key moments. Nine minutes remained in the third quarter, and the Celtics trailed by fourteen points. A Celtic dove to the floor (I think it was Paul Pierce, but I could be wrong), and the Celtics called timeout to save possession. Being that there was only one second remaining on the shot clock, I cursed the decision. Why waste a timeout, when one second is hardly enough to score anyway? (I may or may not have added and F-bomb or two, while screaming at my TV.) Of course, I forgot Ray Allen, or, perhaps a better description, I forgot that New Orleans might (somehow) forget about Ray Allen. Allen came off a screen, caught the inbounds pass, pivoted and fired a long bomb. Swish. The Celtics’ comeback was underway, and a sure loss would later turn into a necessary win.
Was it really necessary? Yes, as necessary as mid-March games get for a team that has already clinched a playoff berth. For psyche, seeding, and general peace of mind (and so I can have at least one good night’s sleep), the Celtics needed tonight’s win. Just ask the puffy, obtrusive bags underneath Doc’s eyes.
(You know, unless I’m a moron and he always looks like that.)