Leon Pow!(e) KOs Sixers
With 3:04 remaining in the third quarter of last night's game, and the Celtics in the process of getting annihilated on the glass and possibly losing yet another home game to yet another ho-hum team, Doc Rivers finally remembered his 12th man and summoned him for help. If that sounds like desperation, well, it was pretty close to that. This was looking like Charlotte redux.
Leon Powe didn't single-handedly stop the Philadelphia 76ers' assault on the boards, but he took a lot of steam out of the visitors and made a huge difference in the Celtics' 116-89 victory, their 32d in 38 games. Five Celtics outscored him and another outrebounded him, but no one made more of his time on the floor than the rugged Californian, whose meaningful minutes this season have been almost nonexistent.
It was a situation tailor-made for Powe, whose forte is rebounding, rebounding, rebounding. He can score, too, around the basket, and he knows that he has six fouls to give and isn't hesitant to use them. As Clint Eastwood liked to say, a man's got to know his limitations. Powe knows his. A man's also got to know his strengths. Powe knows his.
"Leon is Leon. And it's fantastic because he is who he is," said Rivers, getting a little Belichickian. "He's comfortable with being that. It's really a lesson for some of our other guys: Do what you do well. If you master that, you have a chance to be a solid player."
In the first three quarters, the Sixers outrebounded the Celtics, 34-16, which translated into a 26-12 advantage in second-chance points and a 38-28 advantage in points in the paint. Philly led for much of the first half and was down only 5 entering the fourth. But in the final quarter, with Powe playing all but the last 9.9 ticks, the Celtics outrebounded the Sixers, 14-5, outscored them, 16-6, in the paint, and had a 5-2 edge in second-chance points (mainly because they connected on most of their first chances, 69.6 percent). Powe had five rebounds in the fourth, as many as the Sixers did as a team.
"Leon was absolutely fantastic," said Rivers. "I was happy for him. We needed energy, we needed toughness, we needed grit, and he answered the call to all of those. That was really nice."
Powe is operating on circuit overload right about now, having gotten little sleep since the birth of his son Wednesday. And if he had been a little unprepared or distracted, you'd have to give him the benefit of the doubt. He set season highs last night for points (10), rebounds (6), and minutes (15). He hadn't played since Jan. 2, when he turned in a 21-second cameo at the end of the third quarter against the Rockets. Prior to last night, his resume for 2007-08 consisted of 58 minutes spread over 14 games. Only in one of those games, the serial bludgeoning of the Knicks, had he managed to crack as many as 10 minutes.
It isn't easy sitting and waiting (or as the late, great Dusty Springfield would sing, "wishin' and a-hopin") to get into a game and keeping an edge. It's especially hard for young players, who, like Powe and Glen Davis, were big-timers every step of the way and were used to being on the floor. It's an adjustment most have to make. Some do it better than others.
"I've been through worse times than this, so you've got to tough it out and that's what I did," said Powe, still a little bleary-eyed and sleep-deprived. "I approach every game the same way. I've just got to stay ready, keep a positive attitude, and be ready when my number is called."
Soon after Powe's number was called, Andre Miller banked in a 15-footer and the Celtics trailed, 70-69. But with 2:18 left in the third, Powe got fouled and knocked down a pair of free throws to make it 71-70. The Celtics never trailed again. In the fourth quarter, he added 8 more points, 4 coming on dunks off Kevin Garnett feeds.
This was not the blowout the final score might indicate. It was a 5-point game with 6:56 left and, after the Sixers missed a chance to cut the deficit further, the Celtics responded with a 17-2 run over 3 minutes 50 minutes. Powe started the run with a dunk. Things then just got out of hand; the Celtics scored 38 points in the period and made six threes.
But Rivers pulled Powe with 9.9 seconds left so the kid could get some love from the capacity crowd, by then dispersing after (a) being assured of a win and (b) getting the nightly sighting of Gino. But his teammates didn't hesitate to throw bonbons his way.
"My hat goes off to Leon," Paul Pierce said. "That's what the coaches look for."
History tells us that Rivers won't look Powe's way any more often than he already has. That's the life of the 12th man. But Powe has a skill, he provides a service, and that service was very much in demand last night against a young, athletic group that gang tackles the glass and needed to be calmed down. He did just that. That's why he's here.