AUBURN HILLS, Mich. - P.J. Brown said after the woeful performance of the Boston bench in Game 2 that somebody, or everybody as a group, had to step up. Luckily for the Celtics, it turned out to be both.
James Posey came off the bench to score 12 points in 24 minutes as part of a group effort from the revitalized reserves - including a contribution from Sam Cassell, who had been mothballed since Game 5 against the Cleveland Cavaliers - to assist the Celtics in finally finding a way to win away from home in the playoffs with a 94-80 win over the Detroit Pistons at The Palace of Auburn Hills in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference finals.
Cassell was back last night and so was the Boston bench, which accounted for 23 points after scoring just 8 points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 2. The reserves rode to the rescue in the first quarter with a 10-0 spurt that positioned the Celtics to take a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven series.
With Kevin Garnett forced to the bench after picking up his second personal foul at the seven-minute mark of the first quarter, when the Celtics led, 11-4, the Pistons were looking to take advantage. Boston extended its lead to 15-4, but then the Pistons pounced, using a 13-0 run to take a 17-15 lead. The Boston bench responded with its 10-0 run, scoring 2 more points in the final 1:28 of the first quarter than they scored in all of Game 2.
"That was huge," said Celtics general manager/executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, who built the bench. "You got to stop those runs. We had our share of positive runs. That was a big time of the game and the most important part of the game, most likely."
Posey, who had 8 of his points in the first half, started the run with a pair of free throws, and Cassell followed a Posey 3-pointer with one of his own to close out the quarter with Boston leading, 25-17.
After the Pistons took their short-lived lead, the Boston bench scored the Celtics next 16 points. When Garnett returned, with 9:53 left in the half, the Celtics led, 29-23, only losing 1 point off their lead while he was on the bench.
"I thought that was the biggest part of the game for us," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers.
The Celtics led, 50-32, at the half and 19 of those points belonged to the bench, which was 1 more point than Garnett, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen scored. But the contribution was about more than points. Brown, who checked in for Garnett when KG picked up his second personal, was a stabilizing force on the defensive end with a block and four rebounds in the first half. He also chipped in with 4 points, his total for the game.
That was 1 point fewer than Cassell contributed. At first it looked like a mistake when Rivers decided to dust off Cassell, who had been glued to the pine for the previous four playoff games, registering a quartet of Did Not Play-Coach's Decisions.
He entered the game with 3:29 left in the first quarter, promptly jacked up a shot that was partially deflected and turned the ball over on his first two trips down the court. Both Pierce and Posey could be seen jabbering with Cassell, telling him to "run the play, run the play."
But Cassell responded with the 3-pointer and a tear-drop jumper in the second quarter that was classic Cassell.
"I haven't had an opportunity in a couple of weeks," he said. "When I first got in the game, everybody was going 100 miles per hour, but me. It's just getting my timing back. I've never in my life had trouble making a shot."
Posey helped the Celtics close out the game in the fourth quarter with a big offensive rebound that led to him scoring a layup off a feed from Allen that gave the Celtics an 86-73 lead with 3:53 left.
"He was big tonight," Ainge said of Posey. "He's been big for us all season."
Chances are if the Celtics are to realize their goal of hanging another banner in the Garden rafters, they're going to have to have more nights like this from their bench.
"Well, all my experience in this league is that your bench wins championships," said Cassell. "When I won my two championships in Houston, I was a bench player. If you get 20 points from the bench, you can win the game. That's a stat that a lot of people don't realize. You get 20 points from the bench, 19 points from the bench, most likely you'll win the ballgame.
"Tonight I made a couple of shots. Posey made a couple of shots. P.J., Big Baby [Glen Davis] made [two free throws]. Everything counts right now, and once we get opportunities we have to take advantage of it."
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.