At the risk of overreacting, I’m writing this story right after the game, with thoughts of banners and lollipops and Easter Bunnies and joy racing through my head.
A brief recap: the Celtics trailed by 14 points at halftime, then locked up on defense, started scoring almost at will, came all the way back, and won by ten points. They saw Rajon Rondo snap back to life, Kevin Garnett dominate Amare Stoudemire, Paul Pierce show Carmelo Anthony a trick or two (or three, or four, or more). After a Chauncey Billups four-point play put the Knicks ahead nine points with 7:26 remaining, the Celtics went on a 13-0 run to take control and never looked back.
But this game was a whole lot more than that. Again, I may be overreacting to a second half straight out of my most fulfilling dreams (yes, I know it’s sad my most fulfilling dreams regard the Celtics). But this was the type of game that brings teams out of slumps. Rondo raced around the court after loose balls. Ray Allen caught a stray elbow from Stoudemire and shared a few choice words. Kevin Garnett dove after a loose ball that was approximately fifteen feet away from him, forcing a jump ball and causing Tommy Heinsohn to say, “That wins the Tommy Award for the century.” And the Celtics pieced together as thorough a second half of basketball, on both ends of the floor, as they’ve had in at least the past few weeks.
It’s no coincidence that the hustle and execution came as Rondo snapped out of his coma. I say a coma, but he might have briefly been dead—seeing Rondo finally resemble Rondo tonight was like seeing Tony Almeida miraculously alive during season seven of “24.” I don’t call Rondo revived simply because of his stats, either. Rondo’s line of 13 points and 12 assists was nice, and that would have been enough to cheer me up. But it was everything else, too. It was Rondo racing Carmelo to that loose ball in the corner, despite giving up a five-step head start. It was the “wow, did you see that?” moments that have been missing lately, like the fake pass in the lane that had Stoudemire looking the wrong way. It was Rondo alertly tipping a rebound to Delonte West, who found Jeff Green for a dunk. It was Rondo stealing the ball from Toney Douglas, then diving on the loose ball. It was Rondo’s willingness to push the pace in transition, and the picture-perfect pick-and-pops he ran with Garnett and Glen Davis. It was Doc Rivers choosing to play Rondo the entire second half, because—goddamnit—he finally had his rhythm back.
Rondo was the biggest story, because that’s what happens when a player rises from the dead. But his teammates certainly didn’t disappear. Not in the least. Garnett put the team on his back (shout out to “Madden Greg Jennings“), scoring 24 points on 10-15 shooting while completely limiting Stoudemire with his defense. Garnett pieced together a team-leading +22, which was well deserved—when he came off the court in the third quarter, Stoudemire quickly (and easily) scored two straight buckets. And Garnett’s dive on the floor? The one I already discussed? I’m going to discuss it again, because those are the plays that will help write Garnett’s legacy when all’s said and done. He’s 34 years old, playing in the 1,184th regular season game of his NBA career, and that ball was at least two football fields (okay, I’m exaggerating) away. Yet Garnett found a way to get his hands on it, earn a possession his team otherwise would not have had and lift his entire team to another level, all at the same time.
I have still barely talked about Paul Pierce, and all he did was dust off his finishing moves in the fourth quarter. You’ve all seen it many times. Pierce, the professional scorer, finding openings where they barely exist, making shots most players should never even take. Carmelo destroyed Pierce and the Celtics in the first half, with one wide open, parting-of-the-seas dunk particularly drawing my ire. But Pierce was there to contest Carmelo’s every shot in the second half, while also teaching him a thing or two on the other end. As Marcel Mutoni tweeted, “Paul Pierce purchased new, younger legs on the black market this summer.”
Doc Rivers said he hadn’t called his team “soft” in four years, but admitted he used the term many times at halftime. At the time, he was spot on. With the Celtics resembling 90-year old, wheelchair-bound women at one point in the second quarter, I tweeted, “I just want to throw this game out the window.” If Rasheed Wallace had been camped at the three-point line launching bricks and screaming at any referee in sight, this could have been last season. But the second half more than redeemed Boston, with an effort that could best be described as playoff-esque.
Rivers again shortened his rotation, riding eight players for the most part (Carlos Arroyo and Troy Murphy played a combined five minutes). With 8:30 left this was the finishing five’s to win, or to lose, as Glen Davis joined the Fab Four on the court. Elbows were thrown, faces were bloodied, bodies bounced all over the court, and the Celtics emerged with a win that kept them tied atop the Eastern Conference.
“In the second half, we played like the Celtics,” Rivers said. It’s about damn time.