Game Notes: Pistons at Celtics
If at first you don’t succeed, shoot, shoot, shoot again.
by Jay King / @CelticsTown
One-for-seven from the floor. Zero-for-four from the three-point arc. Four points in thirty-six minutes of play. Two straight missed free-throws. Thirty-one seconds remained in a tie game, and – if this had been the first time you’d ever seen Ray Allen play basketball – you might have compared him to Tony Allen.
But whoever built Ray Allen followed a different instruction manual. Even with Allen shooting lights on (can I say that?), Doc Rivers called a play to get his star shooter open in the corner. The result? One soft splash, a long two-point make, and – two Boston free-throws later – an 86-82 win the Celtics barely deserved.
“I’ve shot the ball too many times,” said Allen. “I don’t question going to the bathroom. I don’t question eating. It’s just that simple for me. If I closed my eyes, I could make a good amount of shots.”
Did Rivers hesitate calling a clutch play for Allen, whose All-World jumper looked to be left in the locker room?
“Not with Ray,” Rivers said. “No, no. Ray is a shooter. Shooters make shots. So, no.”
“He’s one of those guys, he can go 0-10; you know the one guy that believes he’s going to make it is Ray. And the second group [that believes] is our team. When we drew it up, you could tell, they thought it would work and they went with it,” added Rivers.
“That’s just Ray. That’s self-explanatory. You’ve seen him do it a million times,” offered Paul Pierce. “He’s such a great player, such a clutch player. I can’t even describe being out there with him, I love playing with him. He takes so much pressure off of me, Kevin, Rondo, when you’ve got a guy you can go to.
“Me and Kevin remember days when we would get the ball every time down in the fourth quarter, on our respective teams, when we weren’t winning. Now you’ve got a situation, you’ve got guys who can come through in the clutch. It’s just such a relief when you’ve got guys who can make baskets for us.”
Without Ray’s jumper, and the Rajon Rondo offensive rebound that preceded it, the Celtics likely would have lost the game. But without Shaquille O’Neal’s performance, those two winning plays never would have materialized.
The Green Mile (a.k.a. Shaq) started rumbling in the third quarter. He grabbed a rebound straight out of a Detroit player’s hands, and was fouled while attempting a put back. The next possession, Shaq stumbled out of bounds after blocking a Rodney Stuckey shot. Shortly after, Tracy McGrady posted up Rajon Rondo and spun to the hoop. His path looked unimpeded, and McGrady rose for the easy lay-in. Easy, at least, until Shaq pinned the shot of the glass. In the words of Dikembe Mutombo, “[finger waggle].”
“The whole team was flat,” Shaq said. “I just tried to pick it up.”
“It’s vital that one of us is doing something on the floor,” he added. “All five of us can’t be out there messing around.”
When Shaq returned in the fourth quarter – and Glen Davis normally plays the fourth quarter minutes – his energy remained. First, he caught an alley-oop from Rondo, spiking it through the hoop with authority. If you glanced quickly, the play looked a lot like the famous Kobe-to-Shaq alley-oop from the 2000 Western Conference Finals.
And Shaq wasn’t done. He scored on a layup from Rondo during the very next Celtics’ possession, then notched another and one the possession after that. What followed the and one can only be described as, “Well, you had to see it.”
Shaq broke down into a little jig, and KG shoved him fiercely (and lovingly) in the back. Shaq actually made the free-throw (I know, stunning) and then dusted off his best “Sammy Sosa at Wrigley Field” impression. No, I don’t mean Shaq took steroids and hit some ungodly amount of home runs. He sprinted backcourt like his shorts were on fire, as Sosa used to race to right field before every inning.
“Shaq – I thought Shaq was the difference in the game, with his energy,” said Rivers. “I thought Shaq was – he won the game for us tonight. He did all the little things: crashed the glass, was physical, blocked shots. He was absolutely wonderful tonight.”
Shaq won’t always be wonderful, not this year, not at the tender age of 38 years old. But on certain nights like Wednesday, when his team needs a boost and nobody else seems willing to offer it, Shaq can call upon his energy reserves.
“I’m in excellent shape,” he said. “Only playing 19-20 minutes a game, I could do that with my eyes closed. There really is no excuse for me to be tired. I’m not tired. Doc does a great job of managing my minutes.”
And so it was that the 38-year old giant, who was considered washed up as recently as last season, helped turn a certain Celtics defeat into a gritty win.
Even with Shaq’s energy surplus, the Celtics needed Ray Allen to take them across the finish line.
“Once I come around the bottom [of the screen], I can see [my defender], kind of where he is. If he’s not up on me” – Allen motions to his side – “then he’s dead.
“We have a saying: Hand down, man down.”