Reserve casts could swing Game 7

June, 9, 2012
6/09/12
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Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesPaul Pierce has embraced the bench efforts of players like Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling.
In a series so loaded with star power, so packed with future Hall-of-Famers, it's been those other guys -- the role players, the bench mob -- who have so far been able to step in and have a fair say as to who emerges victorious in the Eastern Conference finals.

The Celtics can live with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade's individual and collaborative greatness beating them, the same way Miami can do nothing but tip its cap when Rajon Rondo explodes for a triple-double or Kevin Garnett wreaks havoc in the paint. But when the likes of Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers, Keyon Dooling, and Mickael Pietrus swing the momentum of a game in their team's favor with a timely shot or a defensive spark, they become the easiest heroes to root for, and the other side's most frustrating villains.

The Celtics were left pretty frustrated as they dropped Thursday's Game 6, 98-79, as the Heat were given an early lift from their supporting staff -- even in the midst of James beginning a 45-point night -- while Boston was left waiting for its backup like a commuter having missed the last train. Help wasn't on the way.

Through three quarters on Thursday night -- the only relevant quarters -- Boston's bench contributed two points. Two. Dos. A mere pair. They came via Pietrus, but were not able to spark any greater Boston run as it chipped away at a double-digit deficit. Pietrus finished with two points, missing all three of his 3-point field goal attempts. Dooling wasn't far off, coming up with a goose egg in the scoring column in 15 minutes. Meanwhile, Battier and Chalmers combined for 17 points, including eight in the opening quarter alone -- exactly half of the Celtics' team total in the first frame.

"We contributed in a lot of different categories, just not necessarily in the scoring category today," Dooling said of the bench. "[Miami's] defense was so good tonight, I think it was hard for us to score."

Celtics coach Doc Rivers has stressed that it's not necessarily scoring that's most important for Boston's bench, but it certainly wouldn't hurt the cause.

"I think the bench is what it's been all year," said Rivers. "I think for our bench, it depends on what you're looking at. If you're looking at offense, then, yes, it's sporadic. If you're looking at defensively, it's pretty consistent. Our bench is a defensive bench. When they give us points, that's great. But when they come in with great energy and change the tempo of the game, they're having an impact on our team as well. And that's what we look for in our team."

But it was hard to watch the bench not score Thursday, as memories of two clutch fourth quarter 3-pointers from Pietrus, and a late third quarter triple from Dooling in Game 5 danced in the heads of a very giving TD Garden crowd on Thursday.

"We didn't come out with the right energy," Pietrus admitted. "Our energy was low, but it's going to be like that sometimes. You have to keep your head up and stay positive. Good things happen when you stay positive."

And when you hit timely shots. Sure, the Celtics will need Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- who combined to shoot 10-of-32 Thursday night -- to play far better on Saturday, but they'll also need Dooling, Pietrus, Brandon Bass, and maybe even Marquis Daniels to contribute something to the cause -- a comeback-inducing 3-pointer, a sharp cut to the basket for a layup that extends the lead, a dagger of a trifecta that halts a Miami run.

These players hold an undeniable power. They can cover up for a star's lackluster evening; they can latch onto the momentum produced by a star's stellar outing; and perhaps most importantly, they can be the dagger -- the open man in the corner who hits the shot when the double-team pins the star down. The Celtics saw what having that as part of their arsenal was like in Game 5, and then witnessed the unfortunate side effects of not having that at their disposal for Game 6.

With their season once again on the brink on Saturday, the Celtics will look to their stars to carry them. But their gaze won't be fully detracted from Pietrus, Dooling, and the rest of the role player platoon. For they also have the power to help propel the Celtics into the NBA Finals.

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TEAM LEADERS

POINTS
Jeff Green
PTS AST STL MIN
16.9 1.7 0.7 34.2
OTHER LEADERS
ReboundsJ. Sullinger 8.1
AssistsR. Rondo 9.8
StealsR. Rondo 1.3
BlocksB. Bass 0.9