You have got to hand it to Doc Rivers; the man is clearly one of the best coaches in the NBA. It doesn’t seem to matter how strapped his teams are, he always seems to find a way. And while the 2011-12 Boston Celtics are easily his weakest team of the Big Three Era, Rivers continues to juggle an injury-depleted lineup and somehow keep the C’s competitive. Tonight was no different – the Celtics, winners of four straight following the All-Star Break, were once again without Jermaine O’Neal in the paint, although that now seems to be a mute point. Brandon Bass will be the starter for the forseeable future, with KG sliding into the 5 spot on a semi-permanent basis. The rotation will be shortened, the lineup will go smaller, and the Celtics will continue to compete.
Into this theatre stepped the visiting Houston Rockets, who figured to have the inside edge thanks in part to Luis Scola, Samuel Dalembert and Patrick Patterson. The Celtics, one of the weakest rebounding teams in the league, were out-rebounded 38-24 through three quarters and found themselves staring at a 5-point deficit heading into the final frame. Houston stretched the lead to 9 points with 8:30 left in the fourth, at which point the rebounding edge was 41-27. Rivers was clearly frustrated with his team’s ability to take care of the glass. And whether he wanted to admit it or not, the Celtics’ chances of winning a fifth consecutive game looked about as bleak as a cold New England winter day.
But that’s when Rivers stopped his juggling act and leaned heavily on his stars, asking them to make plays down the stretch. And deliver they did – a key rebound by Kevin Garnett here, a timely basket by Paul Pierce there, followed by a nice assist to Ray Allen for the go-ahead three. Suddenly, all looked well with the Celtics and their 4-game win streak.
Except that Goran Dragic found the basket with time running down, tying the game at 84 and sending it to overtime.
Could the Celtics follow up Sunday’s OT win over New York with a big win against the Rockets?
It always helps if you have a player like Paul Pierce on your team. The Truth stepped up when the team needed him most, getting the Celtics off to a quick start in the extra frame. And then, with the Celtics clinging to a 1-point lead, Pierce drew a foul and drained both foul shots. And then, with the lead cut yet again, to 93-92, it was Pierce who made the driving layup to stretch the lead back to three. Two missed free throws by Kevin Garnett gave the Rockets new life at 95-92, but it was Pierce again coming up huge with a big steal at the 25 second mark. A quick Houston foul on Ray Allen followed, and two Allen free throws later the Celtics were the proud owners of that 5-game win streak.
So, back to that part about Doc being one of the best coaches in the league – he is without question one of the best, and tonight was a prime example of Doc Rivers at his finest. Rivers is a great X’s and O’s coach, but what separates him from the pack is a feel for when to rotate and when to stand pat. With the Celtics teetering on the verge of defeat, Rivers didn’t panic. Not with a 9-point deficit late in the fourth. He simply decided to trust his star players down the stretch, and Paul Pierce simply delivered when it mattered the most…validating the fact that, after Larry Bird, Paul Pierce is simply the most clutch player in the proud history of the Boston Celtics.
And that, my friends, is The Truth.