By Jon Evans
Beyond the cupcakes and Superman shirts, a highlight of this years’ All-Star Weekend was Ray Allen’s performance in the main event. Hitting five threes, Ray’s explosion from deep was sincerely appreciated by teammate-for-the-night Rasheed Wallace. As Ray recounted, “Sheed said ‘thanks for playing hard and getting me that extra win money. But now, ya’ll can kiss me where the sun don’t shine.’”
I get the sense that Ray cleaned up that quote from Sheed for the press, but what Ray couldn’t clean up was the mutual rivalry between these two eastern powers. While Ray began his pre-game talk claiming it was ”just game 59,” he continued later with the abundantly clear statement, “They don’t like us and we don’t like them.”
With the tiebreaker for playoff homecourt advantage on the line, it’s clear that this one may be more than just game number 59.
The press room is buzzing as the national media has descended on the Garden for this game. Looking around it seems like half of Around the Horn is here, along with a couple of Sports Reporters for good measure.
Other than tonight’s opponent, the hot topic is the additions of P.J. Brown and Sam Cassell. “Sam is smart, he’ll pick it up fast,” Ray said describing his new teammate’s learning curve. “His IQ is one of the highest I’ve played with. He’ll give Rondo on court tutelage.”
Holding court before the game Rivers discussed both players. “PJ’s active for tonight’s game. He’s doing pretty well. Sam is obviously in better basketball shape, PJ’s been down in New Orleans eating gumbo.” He continued, “I’ve heard the theories that ‘oh they’re holding Sam out so the Pistons wont see him play’. He’s been in the league 1,000 years, they’ve seen Sam Cassell play.”
For what its worth, Tayshaun Prince is taller and longer than he looks on TV while Michael Bivins and Flip Saunders are shorter and stouter in person.
In the visitors lockerroom, Rip plays with his iPhone while Sheed blasts The Clipse’s We Got it 4 Cheap Vol. 3 from his headphones. Moments later, Sheed throws the remainder of his pregame snack at Walter Hermann. Yup, I’d say that Applesauce and I naming our old rec-league team after him was a good idea.
The teams take the court to “In the Air Tonight.” Apparently, KG, the man of the notorious scowl that has graced numerous SLAM covers is a Phil Collins fan.
In the battle of the pregame muisic, I’ll give the edge to Sheed. (Hater-Jake)
KG drives across lane, for bucket over Sheed, 4-1
Pierce curls to top of key, Rondo finds him for the jumper, 6-1.
Rondo drives middle and uses his his bread and butter fake-the-behind-the-back-pass layup 8-1
Rondo penetrates, floats one in over Sheed, 10-1 Green.
Prince flops to the deck trying take charge. This frees up Pierce for an open three and the Pistons call time out. 7:39 left in the first 15-3 Green.
Sheed misses turnaround jumper from the baseline. Clearly Malice and Pusha T have not inspired the Pistons as out of the gate they seem sluggish. Detroit having just one field goal halfway through the first quarter is likely a byproduct of their tough match-up with the Sonics the previous night. Though why a match-up with the Sonics was so close is another story altogether.
McDyess from 20, 17-5.
Rip dives right, hangs and connects, 17-7.
Rip, pestering Ray on the perimeter, is called for the touch foul. After the whistle, a forearm to the chest earns Ray a Tech and leaves Rip sprawled out on the court clutching his throat. The masked wonder is over-acting. Rip misses the technical; ball never lies.
Maxiell blows the dunk. Yup, its been that kind of quarter for the Pistons.
Billups finally joins the party as his strong drive cuts the Boston lead to 10 and raises the Detroit field goal percentage to a robust 26%
Celtics bring in the bench mob – Powe, Davis, Tony and House
Out of the break, Detroit looks to get some semblance of an offense going by establishing Sheed in the post. Three possessions result in two turnarounds and an illegal defense to trim the lead to seven.
Dixon connects on a tough pull up jumper in traffic, 25-20 C’s.
Sheed nails a three from the left wing, to pull Detroit within two.
Big Baby pulls down offensive rebound on KG miss. Hustle rewarded as he connects on a reverse lay-up.
Sheed spins free for dunk, 27-25.
KG drives it in on Sheed, 32-25.
An ill advised lob attempt by Dixon results in a Pistons turnover, KG jumper, and a Flip timeout. C’s +9.
No weakside help means someone will soon have a new KG poster on their wall. His slam puts them up 11.
KG has Sheed pinned deep, hits from two to give him a game high 20.
Sheed takes advantage of Big baby for two in the post, but comes up lame. Grimacing, shakes it off and stays in the game.
Sheed three as the shot clock expires gives him 14 in the quarter. 42-34 Boston.
Pierce step-back 3 puts the Celtics up 10 going into the break.
Rondo drives by Billups, floats it in over Sheed, 51-39.
Out of timeout, a Billups old fashioned 3 point play cuts the lead to 9.
He’s feeling it – KG connects on another jumper as the pick-and-pop leaves him open on the left elbow. Performances like this reinforce just how difficult a match-up KG can truly be. C’s 57, Pistons 48, Garnett 26.
It looks like someone woke up Mr. Big Shot. Chauncey is taking control of the pace of the game, continuously driving to the paint and drawing fouls. It’s proving somewhat effective – at the 6 minute mark, the lead is trimmed to 5.
Another Detroit possession, another Billups drive, another Boston foul, another two free throws. At this point, after this much bullying, I’m surprised Chauncey hasn’t taken Rajon’s lunch money.
Five left in the quarter, we have a nomination for slamadamonth. Rondo explodes right and soars in for the slam over Jason Maxiell. Probably not the best slam I’ve seen in person, but it’s up there. Definitely makes me proud to have named my current rec-league basketball team after him.
Ray finally joins the party. 15 footer puts him the scorers column, 63-54.
Billups continues to prove his crafty veteran status. Borderline flop draws Rondo’s 4th. Hits 2 fts, 65-58.
Mr. Big Shot is in the building – three from right wing brings Detroit within 4. For the period, Billups amassed 18 points, going 3-3 from the field and hitting all 11 of his attempts from the stripe.
House miss, leads to a Detroit fastbreak and a Prince lay-in that cuts the lead to two going into the fourth.
Johnson swats Rondo, on the other end, a Pierce put-back knots it at 69.
9:41, Sheed checks in.
9 :06, KG draws Sheed’s fourth and fifth fouls on the same possession. Thanks for coming, Sheed.
KG jumper over McDyess 72-69.
KG sets up on the left block on Amir Johnson, this should be good. He spins middle, gets Amir to bit on the shot fake and goes under for two.
6:37, Sheed checks back in crowd chants “Wall-ace.” I don’t think they’re mourning the dude Bodie and Poot shot up on the Wire.
Sheed hits top of key 3, 76-74.
After a broken play, Rip sets up top of key – drains the jumper, 78-77 with 5:31 left.
So much for the crafty vet – Rondo gets one as he draws the offensive foul on Chauncey. Chauncey T’d up and the C’s ‘lead climbs to five. After the T, the crowd chants “Chau-ncey, Chau-ncey” I’m pretty sure that neither the Barksdale or Stanfield contingents have bodied anyone by that name, though there is one episode left.
Less than four, Shed hoists an ill-advised pull up three early in the shot clock that barely draws rim. Desperation is a stinky cologne.
Rondo takes the hit and drains a jumper on Billups. The old-fashioned 3 point play puts the Celtics up 11, essentially clinching the game. While Chauncey’s third-quarter exploits confirmed who the All Star was, Rondo, to his credit stayed tough, contributing on several pivotal plays to get the win.
“Rondo’s a confident player,” Pierce said. “He doesn’t get discouraged. He’s growing each and every game. There were a lot of questions – could he be the point guard for this team? He’s answering them all right now.”
After the TruthTicket exit the press conference, I somehow wind up in the background of what is seemingly a real life NBA promo commercial. Bill Russell, sporting a championship ring on each hand, greets Pierce and Garnett as they make their way to the lockerroom. Pierce departs and we’re left with Russell talking to Garnett as cameramen begin to circle around. Though much of their conversation is tough to pick up, one thing that came through was a nugget of praise from Russell. “I always say you’re my favorite player to watch.” The NBA – where “a Slamonline writer stands awkwardly in the background of a Kodak moment of two of the greatest big men ever” happens.