Finally, Boston has a buzzer-beater to call its own.
The Celtics knew it was only a matter of time and repetition before shots fell when they needed them most. With three days to practice end-of-game situations, the Celtics executed confidently and effectively last night as time expired in a tight contest. A last-second game-winner by Ricky Davis atoned for mistakes made in two narrow losses last week and earned Boston a 99-98 victory over Memphis.
Needing to score with 13.6 seconds remaining, none of the players worried about a last-second failure as Paul Pierce inbounded the ball from the left sideline to Delonte West. No one on the court panicked as the clock ticked down and West bounced the ball to Raef LaFrentz, who passed to Mark Blount, who sent it back to West, who zipped it back to Pierce on the right wing. The Grizzlies forced Pierce (29 points, 8 assists) to go to the baseline, collapsing on the captain with five defenders as he drove. Pierce picked up his dribble, spotted Davis at the foul line, and sent the ball through the outstretched arms of the helpless Grizzlies.
Davis was ready for the pass. The ball left his hands just before the buzzer sounded.
''We've been in that situation a couple times already and it helped us grow as a team," said Davis (18 points). ''The more you have those close games the better you are as you go into the season. [Pierce] sees the floor so well that I was just sitting over there waiting, ready. You never know what's going to happen. Seeing I was wide open, seeing the ball was coming, I had to make the shot."
As if the coincidence of Boston winning on a buzzer-beater was not delicious enough, Davis had done almost the exact same thing last season. He knocked down a 15-footer with 3.9 seconds left to defeat the Grizzlies at home Feb. 16, 2005. He had no recollection of that winner. But the second time around was something special Davis probably won't forget because the shooting guard claimed he had never hit a true buzzer-beater until last night.
''It's what you live for," said Davis. ''I think if [Pierce] wasn't under the basket, he would have shot it. It was just a matter of keep moving with him. You never know what's going to happen."
That could be a slogan for the season so far, as well as the final possession against the Grizzlies. When the Celtics lost to the Pistons on a buzzer-beater by Richard Hamilton last Friday night and then to the Bobcats in overtime Saturday night, they looked like a team that would be saddled with growing pains. No one could have predicted the fourth game of the season would also be the fourth game to come down to the wire and finish the way it did, especially considering how Boston fell behind in the second, third, and fourth quarters.
''I will say this: If we have 82 of these, I don't know if I can take this season," said an obviously overjoyed and relieved coach Doc Rivers. ''That was a great comeback by us because we put ourselves in a hole, got out of it, put ourselves in another hole, got out of it."
Before last night's triumph, the Celtics were inept at sustaining fourth-quarter leads, never mind executing with one possession standing between them and victory. Although they continued to make mistakes in the second half against the Grizzlies, the Celtics also displayed a surprising amount of poise in the third and fourth quarters as they staged comebacks. That calmness and determination would hold the team in good stead.
The first comeback 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 8 points a couple minutes earlier. A righthanded hook shot by Jefferson broke the tie, put Boston ahead, 85-83, and capped a 10-0 Boston run.
Jefferson did not dwell on an questionable offensive foul call and scored his third straight basket, an 8-footer to keep the Celtics ahead.
Then, turnovers nearly cost Boston the game. The Grizzlies went ahead, 91-87, when Damon Stoudamire completed a 3-point play on a possession started when Eddie Jones (20 points) stole the ball off a bad pass by Blount (17 points).
Another bad pass by Blount and steal by Jones led to an 18-footer by the Memphis shooting guard and gave the visitors a 98-97 lead with 13.6 seconds remaining.
And everybody remembers what happened next.
''One thing we emphasized [after losses to Detroit and Charlotte] was execution down the stretch of games," said West (8 points, 5 assists, 6 rebounds) as he recalled the final possession. ''That was execution to a 'T'. We got the shot that we wanted."
And the shot the Celtics needed for more than one reason.