By Kevin Henkin
A win is a win is a win. Remember this and forget everything else.
For example, forget the inexplicable loss of composure by the Celtics in the fourth quarter that allowed the Pistons back into the game. Forget the grand total of 3 points contributed by the Boston bench. Forget all those unforced turnovers. Forget the steady stream of defensive lapses throughout the game. Forget the fact that Rajon Rondo had to play 46 minutes because the Celtics had no answer for Lindsey Hunter’s traps. Forget all those open looks that Kevin Garnett bypassed down the stretch. Forget Kenny Mauer’s maddening incompetence.
In short, forget all of the above because this was the crucial swing game of the series and Boston came away the victors. As a result, Boston is now firmly strapped into the driver’s seat and positioned to cruise into the NBA Finals. This is now officially their series to lose.
The game was won by the five Boston starters, but most notably on the backs of Ray Allen and Kendrick Perkins.
Allen brought out his vintage self and it was his offense in the second half that first drove the lead up to 17 points and then brought his team home in the final 62 seconds. With the game on the line, he hit a jumper just shy of the arc with 1:02 remaining that brought Boston’s lead back to three. The importance of this jumper cannot be overstated because the lead had just shrunk to 1 (from 17 earlier in the half) and the Celtics appeared to be wilting under the pressure depsite their home surroundings. Detroit’s defense had become suffocating and no one else wearing green appeared to want to take the shot. Then, after a pair of cool free throws by Piston rookie Rodney Stuckey, Allen sunk his own two freebies with 6 seconds remaining to all but put the game away. If you’re still wondering if Allen was feeling it, check out his 5-6 shooting line from deep waters.
Perkins submitted one of his occasional monster first quarter efforts (8 rebounds and 8 points) but then uncharacteristically keep the pedal to the metal to finish with 16 boards and 18 points on 8-11 shooting. He also had 2 blocks and 2 steals. The man was indeed a beast.
The Big Three, after a lackluster prior game, returned to form to score 78 of Boston’s 106 points, shooting a cool 58% from the field on a combined basis. Rondo had a tough night with his own offense, frequently turning down the open looks that resulted from Detroit’s 5-on-4 defense on the other Boston players, although he did dish out 13 assists with only 1 turnover and converted on a sick left-handed layup during crunchtime when he attacked a gap in the Detroit interior defense. Perhaps his jumpshot was affected by flat out fatigue, considering Sam Cassell’s ineffectiveness that caused Doc Rivers to yank Rondo back into the game after a two minute respite in the first half.
In other news, Kenny Mauer reasserted himself as the worst official this side of Violet Palmer. In the wee hours of the night, some people fear the Bogey Man and his weapon of choice. Me? I fear Kenny Mauer and his reckless whistle. Having Mauer as part of the assigned crew of officials for an important game is like hearing a seven day forecast of rain on the night before your vacation. Maybe he won’t quite ruin everything but you’re frustrated by your lack of good fortune nonetheless. Mauer predictably blew several calls, including one late in the fourth when he overruled the nearer official who had whistled a Pistons foul on the play to call a travel on Ray Allen.
But I digress. I’m no longer worried about Kenny Mauer. Or unforced turnovers. Or anything else about Game 5. It’s all in the rearview mirror, and there it best remains. Meanwhile, straight ahead are two more games on the EC Finals docket, only one of which Boston has to win, and the latter of which is back on the parquet floor. There are far, far worse places to be at this time of year.