Brandon Bass is in many ways the quintessential working-class ballplayer, a one-time second-round pick who has earned every break, every contract, every single good thing to come his way during his seven-year, four-team run in the NBA.
So it should come as no surprise that Bass took the grinder's approach to snapping out of the funk that plagued him during the first four games of the Celtics' Eastern Conference semifinals series with the Philadelphia 76ers, during which he averaged 11.8 points per game on 45.4 percent shooting, down slightly yet noticeably from his regular-season numbers of 12.5 and 47.9.Bass confirmed he watched extra film to identify how the Sixers were defending him. He recognized, according to coach Doc Rivers, that he needed to be more aggressive coming off picks. And Bass said he spent plenty of time in the gym, "putting up a bunch of shots."
"It's just hard work,'' the first-year Celtic explained. "Grinding is what got me to this point, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
All of the above are reasonable explanations for why he played better during the Celtics' 101-85 victory over the Sixers Monday night to give the green a 3-2 lead in their best-of-seven series. But when it comes to how the 27-year-old forward played in the third quarter, well, that might just defy explanation. Some masterpieces are just meant to be admired. And make no mistake, Bass authored a masterpiece.
Bass scored 18 of his 27 points in the third as the Celtics turned a 50-47 halftime deficit into a 75-66 lead entering the fourth. In the span from the 6:38 mark of the quarter to the :42.6 second mark, he hit four free throws, had three dunks, and buried two jumpers as the Celtics turned a 57-55 deficit into a 73-66 lead.
That's 14 points in the span of 5 minutes and 55.4 seconds. That's LeBron James stuff, a stretch of dominance Kobe Bryant would be proud to call his own. In current Celtic parlance, it was something a hoops observer might expect out of Kevin Garnett, or perhaps a healthy Paul Pierce. But from Bass, sometimes derided as "No-Pass Bass,'' an undersized 6-foot-8-inch power forward, a player who had struggled to get off Doc Rivers's bench in the fourth quarter recently and who had never been on the podium for a postgame press conference in the postseason until Monday night? Who saw this coming?
"Yeah, it's a first time for a lot of things, man,'' laughed Bass, who said he had no idea he scored 18 points in the third until a reporter mentioned it. "That's why you see all these beads on my forehead, because I'm a little bit nervous."
Bass might have been sweating after the game, and certainly in preparation for it, but the performance itself was almost casual in its efficiency. His point total in the quarter was one shy of his previous playoff single-game high, set in 2008 when he was a member of the Dallas Mavericks. And he achieved those 27 points by hitting 9 of 13 field goal attempts and 9 of 10 free throws.
It was so reminiscent of Leon Powe's 21-points-in-15-minutes outburst in Game 2 of the 2008 NBA Finals that one couldn't help but wonder whether Phil Jackson was somewhere deliberately mispronounce his name as "Base'' just for old snark's sake.
Sixers coach Doug Collins, who is engagingly candid and articulate in his postgame press conferences, not surprisingly was more gracious and forthcoming about Bass's game than Jackson regarding Powe four years ago.
"Brandon didn't depend tonight strictly on his jump shot, he made some dunks, got in the paint, and when that happens that opens up the basket for you,'' Collins said. "All of a sudden that basket looks a lot bigger for that jump shot.''
Bass was asked whether it was the best game of his career. His straight-faced reply: "To be honest, I didn't even think about it yet. Once it settles in, maybe I think about it after we get the next win. I just want to keep going, continue to help my teammates and do what I can.''
It was a working-class player's answer, putting the team first, and while suitable, the more appropriate answer might have been, "Are you kidding, man? The third quarter alone was the best game of my career.''
This is not to suggest the victory was a solo effort by Bass. Garnett was stellar, scoring 14 of his 20 points in the first half to keep Philadelphia from expanding the lead it held from the 4:42 mark of the first quarter until Bass took over in the third. Greg Stiemsma chipped in with 10 essential points in 14 minutes of action. Pierce battled for every one of his 16 points.
But even with Bass's tour de force, it's hard to imagine the Celtics emerging victorious without the efforts of the facilitator, the one and only Rajon Pierre Rondo. (That's right. Pierre.)
"It starts with Rondo,'' said Sixers forward Elton Brand (19 points). "You have to stop Rondo. When he's aggressive and scoring layups and getting into the paint, that leaves Kevin Garnett open for a jumper, or Brandon Bass open for a jumper or a drive. And as many jumpers as Bass hit, there were a lot of layups and free throws. And that's how you get 27 points on 13 shots."
Rondo did not blow up the stat sheet -- he finished with 13 points, 14 assists, and 4 rebounds -- and there was at least the suggestion that this might be another enigmatic performance from the mercurial point guard. After scoring six of the Celtics' first nine points on slashes to the hoop, he missed a pair of free throws at the 1:18 mark of the first period. Suddenly, the aggressiveness vanished, and he did not score again until the third quarter.
But burdened with additional on-ball defensive responsibilities in the absence of injured running-mate Avery Bradley, Rondo could be excused if he was pacing himself to a degree on offense. While sometimes it looks like he can get to the rim at will, that's because he makes it look effortless. It's not. And you have to say this for him: He had a knack Monday for picking the right spots.
Rondo assisted on seven of the Celtics' 11 field goals in the third quarter, then stepped on his own accelerator in the fourth, scoring three baskets in a span of less than two minutes midway through the quarter to leave the Sixers in the dust and his own coach raving.
"I thought the second half, in my opinion, was one of the best games he's had this year for us,'' Rivers said. "Because it wasn't just the basketball part of it. I thought his will, his leadership, whether he scored, I thought it was one of the best halves he's had. And he got us in our stuff. Barking at guys, demanding guys get into their spots. And that's not something he loves doing. I thought that was as good as a leadership role as he's had for us in the playoffs. He's had better games statistically, but I thought what he did was huge for us.''
Huge, but not unexpected, for as spectacular as Rondo's feats can be, they rarely surprise now. He's capable of anything. Before Monday night, did you ever believe we'd be saying the same thing about Brandon Bass too?
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.