In the biggest game of the season for the Boston Celtics, the Big Four took a back seat to the Other One.
All of the attention in Boston rightfully goes to Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. They are the only four players remaining from the team’s last championship in 2008 and comprise perhaps the best quartet in the NBA. They are the reason the Celtics are still in the title hunt when most felt their window of opportunity had closed.
But the reason they are one win away from the Estern Conference finals is Brandon Bass, the fifth member of Boston’s starting lineup who had the game of his life Monday night vs. the Philadelphia 76ers.
In the pivotal fifth game, Bass snapped Boston out of its doldrums by scoring 18 of his 27 points in the third quarter, when the Celtics took the lead for good before pulling away for a 101-85 home victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Bass was 9-of-13 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line, mixing mid-range jumpers with power dunks. In the third period, he outscored Philadelphia by himself. Not bad for a fifth wheel.
From Marc Narducci of the Philadelphia Inquirer: “How impressive and unpredictable was Bass’ third quarter explosion? The 18 third-quarter points were just one shy of his all-time playoff career mark, when he totaled 19 for the Dallas Mavericks on April 22, 2008 at New Orleans. His best total in the previous four playoff games against the Sixers was 15 in Game 4. “For me, I think it was me taking advantage of my opportunity,” Bass said. “They have been doubling Paul [Pierce] and we have a few good players on the team they have to focus on, and that left me open tonight and I was hitting the shots.” The 6-8, 250-pound Bass is a power forward who has a little small forward in him as well. Bass has a solid perimeter game, but he also has the speed and power to drive to the basket, where he executed several dunks with authority. “He had too many easy baskets, too many dunks,” Sixers coach Doug Collins said of Bass. In the third quarter Bass hit 6 of 7 from the field and all six free throws. For good measure, Bass added two rebounds and two steals. Nothing could forecast this happening, especially since Bass had a nondescript five points in the first half. “I thought he kept the game simple in the second half,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “He didn’t try to do too much and he let the game come to him and trusted his teammates.”
Despite the star power in Boston’s lineup, Bass is the only Celtic to score in double figures in every game this series. He has thoroughly outplayed Philadelphia’s power forward tandem of Elton Brand (who finally had a good game with 19 points) and Thaddeus Young (who was on the receiving end of Bass’ explosion).
Philadelphia played a solid first half, sharing the ball on offense, displaying good activity on defense and going to the break with a 50-47 lead and the belief it could win again in Boston. Most important, the Sixers had kept the crowd out of the game.
From Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald: “For the game’s first 28 minutes, the Shamrocks were laboring under the impression this was January. And following the lead of those in shorts, the Garden crowd was acting more like a crowd in a garden. The people had come to be loud, to get involved, but beyond a shot here or a Greg Stiemsma eight-point first quarter there, there was little to move them. Here were the Celtics in a desperately needed game, and they were playing as if it were a meaningless fourth game in five nights out West. Their stunning lack of urgency was perplexing even to their coach. “It was amazing,” Rivers said. “You know, sometimes, emotionally, as a coach you really don’t know sometimes. And I don’t know what it was. We weren’t right in the first half. You could just feel it. I thought Philly was playing well, but we just .?.?. it was funny. You could see all our guys, they were looking at each other every time someone (on the 76ers) made a shot. And it just wasn’t, I don’t know — I don’t want to get corny — but it was like the Celtic spirit, it wasn’t there. I talked about it a couple times in timeouts, and I just told our coaches we’ve just got to somehow get through this half and just see if we can just gather them back.”
The Sixers maintained control into the third quarter and held a six-point lead when Andre Iguodala jumped a lazy pass and was headed for a breakaway dunk before Paul Pierce committed a clear path foul. With two shots and the ball, they had a chance to double their lead.
But Iguodala missed both free throws and Spencer Hawes threw away a pass, triggering a 10-0 run for the Celtics, who never trailed again. Over a 12-minute span, the Sixers were outscored, 28-9, committing seven turnovers while their starters were shut out.
From Tom Moore of PhillyBurbs.com: “Collins had pointed out that the winner of the third quarter had won each of the series’ first four games. That held Monday as the Celtics dominated the Sixers 28-16 in the period. The Sixers seemed to unravel after Andre Iguodala missed a pair of free throws on a clear-path foul with his team ahead by four. Philadelphia had five turnovers and a missed shot on its next six possessions. “They cranked up their defense and we got careless with the ball,” Collins said. “They were the aggressors and we did not meet their tenacity. They played the last 18 minutes much, much better than we did.” And the deficit kept growing, reaching as high as 20. “They kind of sped us up and we got us out of character,” Thaddeus Young said.”
The series shifts back to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Wednesday. Less than a month ago, there were still nights of double-digit games. But unless both East series go the distance, there will be no more than one game per night for the rest of the season.
That’s because the Oklahoma City Thunder took care of business by closing out the Los Angeles Lakers in five games in the West semifinals with a 106-90 home win. As usual, the Thunder rode the strong play of All-Stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, both of whom met very little resistance in this series. But they also rode their youthful exuberance, which many folks point to as one of their shortcomings.
From Darnell Mayberry of the Daily Oklahoman: “Russell Westbrook no longer could contain his emotions. So he stopped trying. When the time was right, he let loose, celebrating unlike we’ve ever seen him, jubilantly yet violently swinging his arms, one at a time, through the blissful air inside Chesapeake Energy Arena. There couldn’t have been a more appropriate celebration. After all of the Thunder’s big runs and all of its big shots, it was Westbrook’s improbable three-point play with 4:09 remaining in the third period that will stand as the defining play of this series.”
Westbrook was in transition and about to attack the basket. Lakers guard Ramon Sessions made the smart play and tried to wrap him up above the foul line. Westbrook anticipated the foul and flipped a shot toward the rim that somehow banked in.
The Lakers never really came up with an answer for Westbrook, who was too fast and strong for both Sessions and Steve Blake. He averaged 25.6 points in the series, and it was his fourth-quarter eruption in Game 4 that swung the series in Oklahoma City’s favor.
When the series began, it was supposed to be a matchup of Oklahoma City’s three-headed perimeter monster of Durant, Westbrook and James Harden vs. Los Angeles’ three-pronged attack of superstar Kobe Bryant and big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol.
But while Bryant was his usual focused, driven, spectacular self – his season ended with a 42-point explosion – Bynum and Gasol never really asserted themselves enough to sway the series. While critics pointed at passive play, some credit has to go to Kendrick Perkins, Serge Ibaka and Nick Collison, Oklahoma City’s less herladed trio of big men.
From Jenni Carlson of the Daily Oklahoman: “This game was going to turn on the Laker bigs. But it didn’t turn the Lakers’ way. Even though Gasol played 44 minutes and Bynum played 34 minutes, they only combined to score 24 points and grab 20 rebounds. And in the second half when it mattered most, they combined to score only seven points. “I didn’t go away from them,” Laker coach Mike Brown said. “We tried to do the same thing in the second half as we did in the first half.” The Thunder didn’t allow it. It didn’t allow the Laker bigs to do damage on the offensive glass either. Gasol and Bynum managed only two offensive rebounds between the two of them. Both of those came from Gasol. Yes, even though Bynum is 7-feet tall, he still managed to grab no offensive rebounds. How is that possible? “Obviously,” Laker coach Mike Brown said, “we needed more from him.” Part of that was Bynum, who looked from the start like he was in one of his funky moods, but part of that was the Thunder big, especially Perk. He fronted Bynum and gave him fits. “Perk just does a great job of outworking him,” Brown said. Hard to argue that.”
In the first two rounds, the Thunder have now vanquished the Mavericks, who blocked their path to the Finals a year ago, and the Lakers, whose championship pedigree was enough to hold off the young upstarts two years ago but not any longer.
Oklahoma City moves into the conference finals to face San Antonio. Another series win over the smart, steady Spurs – no easy task – would signify a complete changing of the guard in the West.
As for the Lakers, they appear to be done as a true title contender with this group. Gasol has reverted to his pillow-soft play that was prevalent upon his arrival in LA four years ago. Bynum still has maturity issues that get in the way of his greatness. And Bryant – who hungers for championships – is not getting any younger.
From Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times: “As the red and blue streamers dropped from the sky around the fallen Lakers faces, it felt like more than the end of a series. With “Takin’ Care of Business” thumping and thousands rhythmically clapping around the staggering Lakers bodies, it felt like more than the end of a season.
What happened here on a strange and sad Monday night felt like the end of an era. Kobe Bryant’s window to win a sixth championship in Los Angeles may have officially shut, and who knows whether he will want to stick around to spend his final years pressing his nose against the glass? In the two seasons since they won the fifth championship of the Kobe era, the Lakers have lost their famed head coach, their celebrated locker room leader, and the powerful influence of their aging owner. Now they have been dragged to the curb of two consecutive postseasons like bags of old clothes, this time in a 106-90 loss to Oklahoma City that gave the Thunder a 4-1 series victory in the second round. What now? The Lakers flew home late Monday night with the raucous boos from the Chesapeake Energy Arena fans ringing in their ears while their future looked silent and brooding. Combine this loss with the four-game sweep by Dallas in last year’s second round, and this is a team that has gone 9-13 in the last two postseasons. Combine Monday’s four-rebound game from Andrew Bynum with his inconsistent playoffs and turbulent regular season, and this is a team whose brightest young star is a dim bulb. When Coach Mike Brown was asked late Monday where the Lakers go from here, he shook his head. “No place,” said the usually cheery Brown, who finally looked drained as his first Lakers season mercifully ended. “We have a long time to think about it.”
The Heat and Pacers resume hostilities tonight in Miami. We will have a preview later today.