Celtics Diversify Portfolio in Game 5 Win
To quote the great Marv Albert, the Boston Celtics showed their “full repertoire” Wednesday night during their 106-102 victory over the Detroit Pistons in Game 5.
Throughout the entire season and much of the playoffs, the talk of the basketball experts centered around the “Big Three” of Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce, and justifiably so. All three were NBA All-Stars and all three said from the very beginning their goal was to win that NBA championship that has eluded them up to this point. Off the court, they did interviews together, they filmed commercials for ESPN and they hung out before and after games. On the court, one member of the Big Three led the team in scoring all but five times this season. However, during their series victory against the Cavaliers, and up until the Game 5 victory against the Pistons last night, only two of the Big Three had lived up to their end of the bargain.
While Ray Allen was in his prolonged shooting slump, it altered the entire makeup of the Celtics team. During the regular season, and against the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round of the playoffs, defending the Celtics was quite the challenge. Garnett vacillated between the post and the perimeter. Pierce was a threat to shoot the outside jumper or drive all the way to the basket and Allen stretched the defense with his outside shooting. Rajon Rondo simply had to make the right pass and Kendrick Perkins had to be there just in case someone missed. But against the Cavaliers and for much of this series with the Pistons, Allen simply had not brought his “A” or even his “B” game to the arena. He missed shot after shot, and had such a loss of confidence that at times, he seemed to want to force a bad pass, instead of risking yet another miss of an open shot. This put a tremendous strain on Garnett and Pierce.
As good of a player as Garnett is, his game improves when he has superstar players around him. When he played for the Timberwolves, his best seasons came when he had Latrell Sprewell and Sam Cassell around him; however, when they left he was forced to be the man and his game took a significant hit. When Allen’s jumper was non-existent, Garnett was forced to take more shots than he is accustomed to and he was unable to deliver.
Last season, Paul Pierce was the man on a losing Celtics team and it left him frustrated on many nights as his team had the worst record in the NBA. He could jack up shot after shot and pad his individual stats, but his team remained painfully stagnant. This is what led him to pressure general manager Danny Ainge to get some help around him, and it eventually led to the “Big Three”. With Allen unable to muster a decent scoring effort, Pierce, much like Garnett, felt the need to overcompensate and take all the big shots. At times this was a successful formula, but other times, this led to long stretches when Boston would go scoreless. Then in Game 5, Ray Allen came around.
Allen found the touch on his jumper early in the first quarter, and he never looked back after that. Even though 15 of his 29 points were from three-point range, Allen was an inside/outside threat, as he scored on drives and put backs as well. This freed up both Garnett (33 points) and Pierce (16 points) and allowed them to have much more open looks than they had in previous games. Not only did Allen’s play give validation to the “Big Three” moniker once again, but it also inspired the other two starters.
Kendrick Perkins was the man on both ends of the floor, scoring 18 points and grabbing 16 tough rebounds. He grabbed so many rebounds that one point, Jeff Van Gundy told announcer Mike Breen to only name the rebounder if it wasn’t Perkins. Rondo had a terrible shooting night, going 3-14 from the floor, but to make up for that he grabbed six rebounds and dished out 14 assists, while only turning the ball over once (despite numerous questionable cross court passes).
The Big Three clicking on all cylinders, and the other two starters playing at an all-star level, forced the Pistons to defend the Celtics in an entirely different way. Instead of honing in Garnett and Pierce and sagging off everyone else, all five Pistons players had to play with the assumption, that all five Celtics starters could hurt them at any time. And while the Pistons erased the 17-point lead the Celtics achieved via this stellar play, this definitely bodes well for the Celtics going to back to Detroit for Game 6.
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