Obie to Erick: Don't Hesitate

March 26, 2002

MIAMI - For fear of offending people, the Celtics opted not to give a verbatim account of what coach Jim O'Brien shouted at backup point guard Erick Strickland at halftime last night. The edited version had O'Brien telling Strickland to keep shooting.

   "Don't get down on yourself when you miss shots," said O'Brien. "I don't care if you miss your next 100 shots. Don't hesitate. Whether you're making shots or missing shots, you need to be a threat."

In huddles and on the court, the Celtics continually reminded Strickland of what O'Brien wanted, encouraging him to take every open shot he had. It proved the right message for the right player.

With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Strickland stayed aggressive on offense and scored 10 of the Celtics' final 11 points. Behind a season- and team-high 23

points from Strickland, Boston defeated Miami, 87-82. It was a welcome win for the Celtics, who ended a two-game skid in the second of back-to-back road games. They succeeded despite shooting 37.7 percent from the floor and being outrebounded, 45-37. Boston benefited from keeping its turnovers down to 10, fewer than half the amount committed by Miami (21).

"The whole team kept telling me, 'Shoot the ball. If you've got the shot take it,' " said Strickland, who also led the team with six rebounds. "They stayed confident in me." After assuming a smaller role recently, said Strickland, "I just wanted to be ready so that when that opportunity comes I could get my rhythm as quickly as possible. I tried to stay consistent working out, staying after practice and getting extra shots. I did whatever was necessary to be ready."

It was an ugly game with tough defense on both ends. But no one demonstrated more resolve or readiness than Strickland. That was evident when the 6-foot-3-inch guard collided with 6-10 Alonzo Mourning on a drive to the basket. While Mourning (20 points, 10 rebounds)  sat on the floor looking a bit dazed, Strickland got to his feet immediately. Shortly thereafter, with the Celtics clinging to 76-73 lead, Strickland took over.

He hit a 3-pointer with 2 minutes 7 seconds remaining. Next, he barreled through the lane to score a layup. Then he went back outside for another 3-pointer, which gave Boston an 84-80 lead with 24.1 seconds remaining. When the shot fell, Strickland raised his arms in triumph. The Heat called a timeout to regroup, and the Celtics used the break to crowd around Strickland and offer congratulations. Eric Williams was the first one to rush over, lifting Strickland in a big hug.

The Celtics knew exactly what last night's performance meant to Strickland, a player who had been pushed farther and farther down the bench after Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk were acquired from the Suns. Strickland confided that a lack of playing time in recent weeks had caused him to doubt his abilities and diminished his confidence. Whatever doubts Strickland had disappeared last night, which should help the Celtics as they deal with the loss of starting point guard Kenny Anderson, who will remain on the injured list with a sprained left ankle for the next four games. With Anderson out, Strickland should continue to see increased minutes as the backup point guard behind Delk.

"Erick stepped up and we stuck with him," said Pierce (19 points, 5 rebounds). "That's what we need. Kenny is going to be out for a while, so we need different players to step up. It was his night."

Delk's first start as floor general was not as successful as Boston had hoped. The Celtics struggled mightily on offense in the first quarter, shooting 21.7 percent (5 for 23) and falling behind by 10 points. Pierce was held scoreless in the opening period, while Antoine Walker (17 points) managed just 2 points, from the line. The cocaptains made up for their early lack of scoring in the second quarter, combining for 17 points and helping Boston take the lead with an 11-2 run. The only points not scored by Walker or Pierce during the spurt were a pair of free throws by Strickland. But a 3-pointer by Eddie Jones at the halftime buzzer evened the score at 38.

The third quarter featured nine ties and nine lead changes and ended with the teams knotted at 60. Midway through the fourth, the Celtics made a 5-0 run behind a 3-pointer from Pierce and free throws by Walker. But the Heat came back with a 5-0 run of their own. The Celtics did not take control until Strickland confidently hit his shots.

"He wasn't feeling his shot," Williams said of Strickland, who was 1 for 5 at halftime. "I told him, 'Free your mind. Go out there and play the game.' He stopped thinking too much and hit some big shots down the stretch that we really, really, really needed."

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