The Five: Top finishes of 2010-11 season
Every campaign promises a handful of down-to-the-wire finishes and this past season proved to be no exception. The Celtics solidified themselves as one of the best teams in the NBA when it came time to execute down the stretch, (Game 4 against the Heat, notwithstanding) and their poise under pressure led to some unforgettable finishes. Here are five of the best, in chronological order:
November 5, 2010 -- Celtics 110, Bulls 105 (OT)
The Celtics held a slim five-point lead over the upstart Bulls with just over two minutes left, only to fumble it away, forcing them into overtime for the second consecutive game. But the Celtics didn't wilt under the threat of fatigue, and after Chicago center Joakim Noah snared a defensive rebound and broke out in transition of a one-possession game, it was Kevin Garnett who made the timely defensive play, tipping the ball away from Noah from behind with only 14 seconds to play. Glen Davis secured the rock, was fouled, and managed to seal the game at the free throw line.
December 9, 2010 -- Celtics 102, 76ers 101
The 76ers played the Celtics tough all season, living up to their reputation as a team with promise headed for the postseason. Playing on the second night of a back-to-back, the Celtics dealt with all they could handle from the Sixers, overcoming two very difficult shots from Andre Iguodala down the stretch. The highlight of the night came in the final seconds for Boston, when Kevin Garnett faked a screen for Paul Pierce on the cusp of the right wing and dove to the hoop. Rajon Rondo tossed up a lob pass that KG caught in the air mere feet from the basket and laid in off the glass. He then snatched Philly's inbounds pass away at halfcourt, sealing an exciting win for the Celtics.
December 15, 2010 -- Celtics 118, Knicks 116
In what can be regarded as one of the most dramatic wins of the season, the Knicks fought the Celtics from start to finish, and the C's were able to escape thanks to some classic clutch work from Paul Pierce. With the clock winding down, Kevin Garnett set a screen for Pierce at the top of the 3-point arc, and when Amare Stoudemire switched onto him, Pierce drove right and pulled up for a short, fading jumper over Stoudemire's outstretched arm. Pierce buried the shot with 0.4 seconds left on the clock, and then took a celebratory lap around the Madison Square Garden parquet. Stoudemire rifled in a 3-pointer that would have given the Knicks the victory, but replays showed he didn't get the shot off in time, leading to a few boastful bows towards the MSG faithful from Pierce.
April 17, 2011 -- Celtics 87, Knicks 85
The Celtics' performance in the first game of the playoffs against the New York Knicks wasn't exactly inspiring, but it certainly didn't lack thrills down the stretch. A lot had to happen for Ray Allen to get a decent look at a 3-pointer from the left wing to give the Celtics a crucial lead with 11.6 seconds to play. After inbounding the ball to Pierce up top, Allen set a screen for him on Carmelo Anthony just above the 3-point arc, before sprinting towards the left side of the floor. The most important screen was set by Kevin Garnett, who planted (or tripped, according to your perspective) Toney Douglas, freeing Allen to accept Pierce's pass, rise up, and drain a 3-pointer to put Boston ahead. While not the prettiest of games, it was an exciting way to kick off the postseason.
April 19, 2011 -- Celtics 96, Knicks 93
Apparently Game 1 against the Knicks didn't satisfy the appetites of those looking for late-game theatrics. Just two nights after Ray Allen sank the Knicks, it was Kevin Garnett's turn to wreak havoc on both sides of the ball in the final seconds. First, with the C's down one, Garnett took an inbounds pass on the right block and backed Jared Jeffries down into the lane before tossing in a difficult right-handed jump hook over him, putting the Celtics up 94-93. Then, with the Knicks looking to win the game and tie the series, Garnett knocked away a Jeffries pass to a cutting Bill Walker on the right baseline, fell on the ball and secured it, and managed to call a timeout. Carmelo Anthony's 42 points were not enough as the Celtics captured a commanding 2-0 series lead.
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com
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