Rick Pitino had an enjoyable dinner last night at a Commonwealth Avenue pub because of three mechanics - Tyus Edney, Pervis Ellison, and Greg Minor - on his roster. The Celtics beat the Nets, 101-93, before a national cable audience and a sellout crowd at the FleetCenter. If it hadn't been for the maintenance men, the coach may have found that maybe he didn't have an appetite after a 2-hour 32-minute game.
"I think Pervis Ellison was a big catalyst to our comeback," Pitino declared after his team improved its record to 6-6.
That's enough cause for pause. Everyone has an Ellison story. They think he is too fragile. They think the former No. 1 NBA draft pick didn't maximize his potential. They talk about his hair. But the big man was as smooth on the court as the sounds of his favorite singer (Etta James) are off it. He played 14 minutes before fouling out. He blocked five shots, the last of which was huge.
Only 2:23 remained and Antoine Walker had just turned the ball over. The Celtics led, 87-82, and Chris Gatling had the ball in the post. The lanky forward finished with 22 points and he could have had 24 if Ellison hadn't knocked his shot away from the hoop. Wherever he was last night, Bill Russell must have felt a chill when Ellison swatted the shot away.
It was his kind of block. Good enough to prevent a hoop and good enough for the team to gain possession. That's what happened. Ron Mercer made two free throws with 1:51 left, and the Celticswere up, 89-82.
When the game was over, Ellison, with 4 points on the night, was escorted courtside. Radio and television types wanted to talk to him. That hasn't happened in a while.
"Coach Pitino has brought excitement back to this team," Ellison said. "You know he's going to play a lot of people and you have to be ready."
You have to be ready because there are going to be nights when starters are going to miss layups, dunks, midrange jumpers, 15-footers, and 3-pointers. A lot. All in the same quarter. The Celtics shot 17 percent in the first quarter and trailed, 21-10.
"I can't remember having a team score 10 points in a quarter," Pitino said.
His team was lucky. They were lucky because the Nets had only 21 points in the first and had no concept of playing as a seamless unit. The Celtics did.
"I thought Pervis was great," Dee Brown said. "He got some nice blocks and used his fouls well."
What about the Celtics' missed shots?
"We knew we were still in it," Brown replied. "We were just missing shots; we had good looks."
Which brings us to the second mechanic. His name is Edney. He's the shortest and fastest man on the team, and Pitino often gives him the ball when a spark is needed. Edney took it to another level last night. He punctuated the spark. He put a crown on the Celtics' 37-point second quarter by racing the length of the court and putting in a layup with eight-10ths of a second on the clock. He was fouled, made the free throw, and left the court to a standing ovation with the rest of his teammates.
"I guess that's something I've shown I can do," Edney said of his drive. He did the same thing in the 1995 NCAA tournament to win a game for UCLA. Last night Edney also drew the fifth personal foul on Sam Cassell, who eventually fouled out.
The Celtics took control in the third quarter, with all kinds of mechanics - including Andrew DeClercq and John Thomas - contributing. They led by as many as 11 and then held on, thanks to Greg Minor.
"Two of eight," he groaned at the stat sheet. He was talking about his field goal shooting. But then there was another stat: 8 for 9. Free throws. He was 6 for 6 in the fourth quarter.
Of course, it didn't hurt that Antoine Walker had 24 points, 12 rebounds, and 5 assists. And the Celticswould have been lost without his 3-pointer with 3:07 left. It beat the shot clock and gave Boston an 87-78 lead. But John Calipari is wishing he had more maintenance men today.
"We have very talented players that, if they play together, are good," the Nets coach lamented. "If they fight each other like they did tonight, they're not."
The Celtics seem to understand that.