You’ve seen the internet meme: 1. Step one. 2. Step two. 3. ???? 4. PROFIT!!! Well, I’m happy to report that the Celtics discovered the variable represented by the ????. Pay close attention.
Step 1: Establish a comfortable lead with plenty of time to blow it (or “Set the table”).
It all began with this play.
The Celtics had kept pace with the Thunder for most of the game, even outplaying them slightly. The defense was clicking (for once), and it was clicking against a talented, explosive offense, no less. What’s more, with a big run at the end of the third quarter, Boston had actually pushed its lead to double digits. So when Thabo Sefolosha (who got soundly beaten in the final quarter) helped too much on Jason Terry, Terry kicked to Pierce for the open three and the Celtics were rolling.
Step 2: Fail to finish off opponent (or “Hint at the collapse”).
Boston played this step perfectly. After Pierce pushed the lead to 14 with his 3-pointer, the Celtics stayed ahead…but they didn’t extend the lead at all. And sure enough, bit by bit, the Thunder poked away at that lead. First it was 12, then it was 10, then it was eight, then it was 10 again, then it was 12 again, but it never got above 12 and against Durant and Westbrook, it never felt out of reach.
Step 3: Execute the collapse (or “Score just two points in three minutes”).
Again, this was just very well played by Boston. They showed off the very depths of stagnation at which the offense is capable of playing. Jumpshot after jumpshot hit nothing but rim, and in between jumpshots, the C’s interspersed a variety of turnovers. Really, this was an impressive display of collapsibility.
Step 4: Allow elite free throw shooters to close the gap with the clock stopped (or “Foul unnecessarily”).
Two free throws from Westbrook, two from Durant, and two more from Westbrook (SERIOUSLY GUYS, CUT IT OUT), plus a three by Durant, and all of a sudden Boston was clinging to a 3-point lead for dear life.
Step 5: Give your fanbase one final heart attack (or “Be a sadistic dick”).
When Brandon Bass threw the ball away to Westbrook with 1:20 left and when Kevin Durant fired up that 3-point jumper, I would have been willing to wager my brand new Vans it was going in. And I’ll have you know: I look pretty good in those Vans.
But it didn’t. Somehow Durant’s three fell harmlessly off the rim and the Celtics maintained a 3-point lead with just over a minute left. And that’s where the second part of this whole operation came into play.
Step 6: Gain a little breathing room (or “Peek out from between your fingers”)
Garnett baits Serge Ibaka into a dumb foul and calmly drops home a pair of free throws. Every Boston fan watching the game has to excuse themselves and go urinate all over the bathroom.
Step 7: Get a huge defensive stop (or “Stop hemorrhaging”).
Given Jeff Green’s dominant game, Kendrick Perkins’ emotional return to Boston, and the crazy back-and-forth nature of this game, it would have been poetic justice if, after Westbrook missed a layup, Kendrick Perkins’ tip shot had gone in.
But screw it. I always hated poetry. Boston had the ball and led by five.
Step 8: Finish ‘em (and strut away).
Jason Terry swishes the dagger, a contested 3-pointer from above the break. And to cap it off, he doesn’t run away from the spot of the shot. He doesn’t skip back to the bench and leap up against a teammate. Nope, he hits the ground and swaggers slowly back toward half court. Damn, it feels good to be a gangsta.
Step 9: PROFIT!!! (or “WIN!!!”)
So basically, Boston’s formula for profit is to get contributions from lots of different places and big baskets and stops. And it really helps the defense if they can avoid being embarrassingly out-rebounded. Who would have thought?
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.