November 10, 2005
Finally, the Celtics have a buzzer-beater they can call their own.
Ricky Davis drained a 15-footer as the final horn sounded last night, giving Boston a 99-98 victory over Memphis at the TD Banknorth Garden. The Celtics said they needed to learn from mistakes that resulted in a pair of losses in closely contested games, that they needed to figure out a way to stay composed and execute down the stretch. Well, last night it looked like the Celtics were a very quick study.
The Celtics had 13.6 seconds to make one last basket and they never panicked. They did not rush into a bad shot. Instead, all five Celtics on the court touched the ball as Boston worked from the left wing to the right corner.
From that point, Paul Pierce (29 points, 8 assists, 7 rebounds) drove baseline, drawing four Memphis defenders. Once he was under the basket, Pierce kicked the ball out to Davis (18 points) at the foul line.
Davis hit the shot and the celebration began.
Before last night's victory, the Celtics did not know how to sustain a fourth-quarter lead. But not only did Boston show it can execute in the closing seconds, the Green proved capable of staging an impressive comeback, and more than one, at that.
The first came in the third quarter when Boston erased a 12-point deficit.
The second came in the fourth quarter when the Celtics tied the contest at 83 on an Al Jefferson layup after trailing by 7 points (78-71) a few minutes earlier.
The question then became a familiar one: Could the Celtics execute down the stretch well enough to actually win a close contest?
The ensuing Boston possessions seemed to say, "Yes." A righthanded hook shot by Jefferson broke the tie. Dan Dickau sent a bounce pass to Jefferson for a 8-footer that pushed the home team ahead, 87-85.
Then, a couple of costly mistakes seemed to say, "No." But for all the inconsistencies and 3-point plays Boston allowed Memphis down the stretch, the Green trailed only, 94-93, with a little more than two minutes remaining.
The Celtics hoped to regain the lead off an inbounds pass, but confusion ensued and they were forced to call a timeout. It didn't help as Mark Blount (17 points) missed a baseline jumper.
But the Grizzlies did not fare much better on the other end, even though Pierce and Davis bumped going after a rebound and gave the visitors a second chance to score. Eddie Jones (20 points) missed a 3-pointer, but Pierce hit a jumper and the Celtics went ahead, 95-94, with 1:25 left.
Pierce kept the Celtics ahead with a 19-footer, though they could not extend the lead. Instead, Jones stole the ball and hit an 18-foot baseline jumper with 13.6 seconds remaining, giving Memphis a 98-97 edge.
Doc Rivers must have said all the right things during halftime because the Celtics stepped up their defense and took the lead in the third quarter. Despite shooting 42 percent from the floor, Boston staged an 11-0 run late in the third and took a 71-69 lead with 1:20 left in the quarter. The Grizzlies responded with a 7-0 run to close the quarter.
Bobby Jackson (16 points), who troubled the Celtics all night, hit a 3-pointer seconds before the buzzer to give the Grizzlies a small cushion entering the fourth.
The Celtics didn't enter halftime worrying what might happen if faced with another end-of-game situation.
They had more pressing concerns, like how to come back from a 59-47 deficit. The list of concerns went on to cover the Grizzlies' accuracy from the floor (they shot 56 percent) and rebounding advantage (20-12). The only good news was that Pierce and Blount helped Boston shoot 57 percent from the floor in the first half, saving the home team from real embarrassment and keeping the boos from the crowd of 15,086 at the Garden to a mild smattering.
The game actually stayed close through the first quarter with Memphis leading, 28-27, at the start of the second. But the Grizzlies opened the second with a 23-5 run and proceeded to take a 51-33 lead on a 3-pointer by Jones with 4:27 left in the half. It was the second consecutive 3-pointer by Jones.
Memphis did not lack for scoring opportunities inside with John Thomas and Lawrence Roberts scoring on layups and seven trips to the line resulting from penetration. Jones also added driving dunk.
The Celtics tried to battle back from inside and outside. Pierce found Blount on the run for a dunk that roused the crowd and their teammates. Blount and Pierce connected again for a layup that brought Boston within 13 points (55-42).
Pierce dished to Delonte West for a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds remaining in the second, allowing Boston to pull just a little bit closer.
The Grizzlies had 11 second-chance points in the first half. The Celtics had none. And partly as a result, they were looking for one big second chance in the second half.