Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Defying the gods

Stephen Danley reminds us that good sports writing is still alive:

"Any player will tell you that there are nights when the basketball gods simply don’t want you to win. They normally come on the back end of a road trip, or the second night of a back-to-back. On those nights career 19 percent 3-point shooters go 5 for 5 from behind the line and players like Shaquille O’Neal don’t miss a free throw. It seems as if everything the other team throws up fall through the hoop and you’re playing in quicksand.

Wednesday was one of those nights, and the Celtics won anyway.

On a snowy night in Philadelphia, the basketball gods blitzed the Celtics from the get go. The 76ers’ Andre Iguodala, who is known more for his athletic prowess in the open court than his one-on-one ability, made five tough buckets to open the game, including two 20- footers with a defender in his face. He finished the game 10 for 17 from the field.

Andre Miller, whose jump shot is an affront to the aesthetics of the game, came out and made six of his first seven shots. Many of those were tough fadeaways from 17 feet and were so ugly that parents should have shielded their children’s eyes from the replays.

As a team the Sixers shot 60 percent in the first half. With 43 seconds left they were up, 57-48.

It was at that moment that the Celtics got back into the game.

With the amount of time left on the clock everyone in the building knew the Celtics would try to get two more scoring opportunities. The problem with trying to squeeze two possessions out of the last 40 seconds, is that it’s easily anticipated. An evenly matched opponent will tighten up their defense and instead of having even one good possession you end up with two bad ones.

The Celtics had no such difficulties. They pushed the ball down the floor and Pierce sliced to the basket quicker than pie disappears on Thanksgiving. His layup fell through with 33.9 secondss left. That virtually assured Boston of another possession.

On the other end, the Sixers showed their inexperience and turned the ball over, leaving the Celtics with 23.1 seconds.

Tony Allen held for the last shot and executed perfectly. He drove into the lane with about 7 seconds left. His layup attempt rolled off the rim but because he made his move with enough time, Garnett had a chance to grab the rebound. Garnett ended the half with a vicious dunk punctuated by a primal scream.

The Celtics went into the locker room down by 5 points, having almost completely negated the outstanding play of the Sixers.

The second half started with more of the same: Garnett dunk, Ray Allen 3-pointer, Pierce jump shot, Sixers timeout.

Just like that the Celtics were back in the lead, and although Iguodala hit a wild scoop shot to momentarily stop the momentum, the Celtics were like sharks circling their prey. Their passes were crisper, their ball movement was better and they had an energy that was absent in the first half.

When James Posey came in for Garnett with 3 minutes 40 seconds left in the third quarter, Garnett went to each of his teammates on the court and pointed at them. Then, coming off the court, he gave a fist pump and let out a yell.

Garnett’s message was simple: They had put the Sixers back on the ropes. Now they had to finish them off.

There was one problem; the Sixers kept throwing punches of their own.

Every time the Celtics looked poised to pull away the Sixers would answer with a tough basket. They simply didn’t miss shots.

The game seesawed back and forth until Garnett took things into his hands once again. With the Celtics up by 89-88, Garnett made a steal.

The Celtics pushed the ball and Eddie House launched a 3-pointer from the right corner. Garnett, trailing the play, swooped in to corral the rebound. He held the ball for a second, letting the offense reset, then waved for both Pierce and House. He sent House into the corner and tossed the ball to Pierce for a pick and roll.

As Pierce drove into the lane he drew both his and Garnett’s defenders. House’s defender slid down to pin Garnett and prevent an easy dunk. There, standing all alone in the corner where Garnett had placed him, was House.

Bang. 3-pointer. 11-2 Celtics run. Game over.

In the end it didn’t matter that the Sixers never really cooled off.

The Celtics won the decisive fourth quarter, even though the Sixers more than 50 percent from the floor.

The Celtics winning formula was simple enough. They did the things any championship team does on a nightly basis. They finished the first half strong, they won the first five minutes of the second half and they executed down the stretch.

On a snowy night in Philly, that simple formula was enough to defy the basketball gods." (Stephen Danley, "Winning when they Shouldn't," NYTimes, Dec. 11, 2007).


Post a Comment

<< Home