Date: May 21, 2012
Location: TD Banknorth Garden, Boston MA
Final Score: 101-85
Key Players: Brandon Bass (9-13 from the field), Rajon Rondo (13 points, 14 assists)
Top Plays: 0:16 (Rondo look-away and pass inside to Stiemsma for the dunk), 1:54 (Celtics overpass, but the ball ends up in Bass’s hands for a massive slam)
Rundown: Brandon Bass, guys. When he gets hot, he gets hot like cement on a summer day. Bass torched the 76ers in the third quarter, scoring 18 (!!!) of his 27 points. Bass’s mid-range game can be silky smooth when he is hitting shots, but my favorite part of his game is when he goes up for a two handed slam and attempts to rip the rim off the backboard with both hands, like the backboard just insulted his mother and the rim is an appendage. Violent dunks are entertaining, especially in the playoffs, and Bass delivered them frequently.
But though Bass was excellent, especially in the second half, it was Rondo who, as he had done all series, ran the floor, directed traffic, and generally played to the absolute height of his potential. Watch the above clip at 2:34 again. Rondo gets the ball at half court, and the fast break is completely in shambles. The Celtics have a 3-2 break, but Allen and Pietrus are both on the same side of the floor, negating Boston’s numbers advantage. Rondo, running at about 60% speed, gestures angrily for Pietrus to back off to the corner, clearly looking for a drive and kick. But when Elton Brand and Lou Williams overcommit to the right side, Rondo picks his speed up and gets to the rim easily for a layup. He didn’t force anything, he just took what the defense gave him, and the defense gave him too much. Rondo may seem disinterested on occasion during the regular season, but when the playoffs arrive, his absurdly high basketball IQ shows up in full force, and he becomes as unstoppable as any player in the NBA not named LeBron James.
In this game, Rondo scored 13 points on a variety of layups and floaters close to the basket and created 14 assists for his teammates. Playoff Rondo wasn’t about to allow the Celtics to go back to Philadelphia trailing in the series, and between his contributions and Bass’s offensive eruption, the Sixers were outgunned.
What it meant: The Boston/Philadelphia series to this point had been a win one, lose one, win one, lose one affair for the Celtics. This game, a home game before the series shifted back to Philadelphia, was a big one. If the Celtics lost, they would be forced to play to keep their series alive in Philly, away from the home crowd that kept them energized.
But this game was big for another reason as well. This was the first game Avery Bradley missed with his shoulder injury. At the time, I specifically remember thinking to myself that without Bradley, the Celtics might as well just bow out in the second round and avoid the impending four game sweep Miami was about to put on the C’s. I was incredibly negative about Boston’s chances without their best perimeter defender, especially since Boston’s OTHER shooting guard, Ray Allen, was essentially incapacitated by his bone spurs, at this point. It is very difficult bordering on impossible, I reasoned, to win a playoff series without production from a wing position.
But the Celtics responded to Bradley’s injury well. Despite his absence, the offense clicked, and the defense held Philadelphia to 85 points. A cynic would point out that holding the low-scoring Sixers to 85 points is little more than holding them to their season average, but I am no such cynic (at least not in hindsight).
This may have been a simple playoff win, but it was, at the time, the kind of win that felt like a step forward. Boston desperately needed to prove that they could move on without Bradley, and with huge contributions from Bass and a preview of the destruction Rondo was about to wreck on Miami, this was the proof. But more on the finale to this series will come later in the countdown. For now? Rewatch the highlight reel, and enjoy Brandon Bass. It’s good to have him back.
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