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On basketball

Bench once again provides a deep threat

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Peter May
Globe Staff / May 1, 2008

Over the Lost Weekend in Atlanta, the Celtics' bench was, well, pretty lost. It turned around dramatically last night, as Boston once again routed the road-phobic Hawks, 110-85, and need one more win to close out those pesky youngins.

There was life and energy from the reserves in the person of Leon Powe. There were points from a guy whose presence on the floor signifies scoring in the person of Sam Cassell. James Posey, the one reserve who did not submit an MIA card in Games 3 and 4, chipped in with some big 3-pointers and even Glen "Big Baby" Davis had some woofing action in garbage time, blocking a shot in the final minute by villain Zaza Pachulia.

"We know our role, we know the game plan, so it's just a matter of us going out and executing," said Posey, who had 6 points. "It's just a matter of us going out and executing."

All seven reserves played, including Tony Allen, who was elevated to exalted status in the blogosphere by not playing in Game 4, when it was theorized he might have been able to slow down Joe Johnson. (The Celtics decided to double-team Johnson right out of the box last night and while Johnson did score 21, he was on mute for most of the night.)

The Celtics' reserves produced 35 points, with Cassell (13) and Powe (10) cracking double figures. That's 11 more points than the bench submitted in both games in Atlanta. Cassell managed 2 points in the two games at Philips Arena. He passed that last night less than four minutes into the second quarter.

"This is my time of year," Cassell said. "I understand what it takes to be successful in the playoffs. I just want to get some minutes. It's hard to do anything when you play four or five. But [Rajon] Rondo has been playing so well, it's hard to get him out of there."

But while Cassell put up the points, Powe put up the brawn, the hustle, and the energy when it was most needed, right after Kendrick Perkins picked up his second foul. The California Kid has come a long way this season, from the end of the bench to the now undisputed First Big Off The Bench. He has done it the old-fashioned way. He's earned it.

He got an earlier-than-expected entrance call, with 7:02 left in the first quarter. One of these days, a coach is going to try and make sense of the automatic hook for a player with two fouls in the first period. It's silly, but every coach does it. I can see it with a foul-prone person (like Perk) but if Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett gets two early ones, they would seem to me to be savvy enough to stay away from No. 3. And you still get six.

Anyway, I digress. Powe is one of those guys on constant standby because Perkins has been known to collect a foul or two, some by reputation only. So he's always ready. "I know where I came from," Powe said. "The end of the bench. My job is to be ready to play when I'm called and to play as hard as I can, whether I'm out there for 1 minute, 2 minutes, or 10 minutes."

Powe immediately made his presence felt on the offensive glass, where he is as comfortable as he is relentless. The man knows how to rebound and, just as critical, where to be for a rebound. He also made two big defensive plays, taking charges from Johnson and Al Horford. But, in the second quarter, he picked up his third foul with 3:45 to play and joined Perkins (who had also picked up his third) on the bench.

But the fans gave him a standing ovation as he took a seat. His first-half numbers: 7 points, 7 rebounds, 2 drawn charges in 14 minutes. When asked about drawing the charges, Powe said, "Well, I try to guess what the offensive guy is going to do. If I'm right, it's a charge. If I'm not, it's a basket. Or a foul."

He was right on most things last night. Asked about Powe setting the tone, Doc Rivers said, "I thought offensively [he did] and his rebounding was great." Kevin Garnett chimed in, "He got some minutes and he got in a great rhythm early. He is the key to our ball club on some nights, his energy, it is everything. Everything we get from our bench is a big addition."

The key now is for the bench to show up tomorrow night in Atlanta. (The Hawks' bench pretty much consists of Josh Childress.) The Celtics' bench has been terrific at home and not so terrific on the road. The starters can take them only so far. It's nights like last night that remind you that this is a deep team, that some of the reserves are solid veterans who know how to win and contribute and that the bench has game-changing capabilities. One more night like that and the Celtics won't have to worry anymore about who's guarding Johnson.

Peter May can be reached at pmay@globe.com.

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