Emotional Celtics avoid a 3-1 hole by knotting series
Generally, Doc Rivers’s rule against fourth-quarter technical fouls is hard and fast. Last night, he willingly looked the other way.
“That was blown out of the water,’’ he said.
With Tony Allen, Glen Davis, Nate Robinson, and Rasheed Wallace setting the hardwood and the Lakers ablaze in the final period, the Celtics’ most effective lineup of the night also happened to be their most emotionally charged. So the moment the Celtics started to rally was the same moment the game seemed to fly off the hinges. The Celtics were in the middle of a 12-4 run, up, 74-66, with 7:46 left, when Wallace was hit with a tech for dancing halfway around the court after being whistled for a foul on Kobe Bryant under the basket.
But when Bryant missed the technical free throw, you could hear Wallace saying, “Ball don’t lie!’’
The Celtics kept running. Right after Bryant made the two free throws from the foul, Robinson drove hard to the basket and finished with a floater that put the Celtics up, 76-68, and after a Lamar Odom layup, Wallace drilled a 3-pointer that made it 79-70. Odom fouled Robinson at the 5:39 mark, sending him flying into the front-row seats. Robinson hopped up, clapping as he got chest to chest with Odom, who towered over him by 13 inches.
He earned a technical for it, but it only seemed to kindle the Celtics’ momentum. They shot 12 for 19 in the final frame, outscoring the Lakers, 36-27, as they stormed to a 96-89 series-tying win in Game 4.
“It’s probably our most emotional group when you have Nate, Tony, and Rasheed on the floor at the same time,’’ Rivers said. “So the techs happen. But other than that I thought our energy was absolutely terrific.’’
The contributions came from everywhere. Davis scored 18 points, playing nearly the entire fourth for the second straight game. Robinson threw in another 12, going 4 for 8 from the floor with a pair of crucial threes.
They seemed to blow through the fourth quarter on energy plays alone, forcing at the least a sixth game Tuesday in Los Angeles. If the techs came, so be it.
“They were playing with great emotion,’’ Rivers said. “Nate, that [technical] was the one I didn’t like more than Rasheed’s. We don’t have to be tough, especially at whatever height you are. But that’s who he is. He’s an emotional player, and it’s so easy for us, I’m sitting in a suit and tie and all of us to say, rein it in. But they were playing well, they were happy, they were excited. So it is a fine line.’’
Down, 62-60, going into the fourth and facing the possibility of falling behind, three games to one, in the series, the Celtics’ second unit huddled up before embarking on what may have been the most crucial 12 minutes of their postseason thus far.
“We said we’re going to win all the 50/50 balls and we’re going to do whatever it takes because we only got so much time out there,’’ Tony Allen said.
As they continually beat the Lakers to rebounds and loose balls, most of the starters watched from the bench, as the rally stretched and the intensity level climbed.
“I think that’s what made them play harder,’’ Kendrick Perkins said. “Just the intensity level, how they got into guys, and they were just playing with a lot of fight and a lot of passion.’’
Paul Pierce snapped out of the slump he had been in all series, scoring 19 points on 7-of-12 shooting, showing signs of life early by establishing himself in every facet (six rebounds, five assists). But the Celtics had to fight off Bryant (33 points, six 3-pointers), who played the role of fire extinguisher all night.
When the Celtics seemingly flipped the switch on a sluggish offense in the third quarter, taking a 54-53 lead on a burst sparked by Kevin Garnett (13 points, six rebounds) hustle plays, Bryant was there to turn the lights back out, snuffing out the rally by first draining a 24-foot crowd silencer, then hitting two more in the next three minutes.
For most of the night, that was Bryant’s M.O. In the second quarter he scored 8 points in 63 seconds, stomping out another potential Celtics’ run.
“I actually thought we made it tough,’’ Rivers said. “The guy is Kobe Bryant. He made some unbelievable shots. But I thought, again, we did a great job on everybody else, and we felt that in Game 3 we didn’t do that. All the other guys really hurt us, and I thought our guys all kind of stayed focused on their man.’’
Bryant missed four of his six fourth-quarter shots, not able to put a stop to the Celtics’ charge alone.
“Every guy wanted it,’’ Tony Allen said. “Once we were playing hard and basically looking at what’s at stake, we knew we were coming out. We had no choice but to go out there in the fourth quarter and give 110 percent.’’