When you're a .500 team, it's hard to cling to anything but the final result. But considering the Celtics' somewhat atrocious late-game play in clutch situations this season, Boston can find a small silver lining in Friday's overtime loss after rallying out of a seven-point hole in the final 33 seconds of regulation.
Yes, the Celtics benefited from two missed free throws that gave them a pulse. But the Celtics put together three really nice sequences over the final 29 seconds that deserve to be spotlighted.
1. THE ALLEY-OOP: Down five with 29 seconds to go, the Celtics recognized the need to score immediately in order to give themselves a chance to get a stop in a one-possession game. Coach Doc Rivers drew up a ridiculously simple alley-oop play off the inbounds and Jeff Green, coming off a screen from Paul Pierce at the free throw line, caught the long out-of-bounds feed from Rajon Rondo and slammed it home as Boston trimmed its deficit to 88-85 while taking a mere half-second off the clock.
2. THE TURNOVER: The Celtics pressured the Bucks on the inbounds and Rondo and Jason Terry eventually trapped Brandon Jennings above the 3-point arc. Boston might have actually avoided a game-clinching sequence when the Bucks called timeout right before Jennings nearly found a wide open Larry Sanders under the hoop. Coming out of the timeout, the Celtics again trapped Jennings and this time he threw a terrible pass that Rondo intercepted.
3. THE SECOND-CHANCE 3: Rushing the other way, Rondo fed Terry in transition for a quality look but -- as had been the case all night -- Terry couldn't get his shot to fall. Green came up with a monster save by outleaping two Bucks to tip the ball backward. It floated right to Pierce at the top of the arc, who drilled a straightaway 3-pointer to tie the game at 88 with 2.5 seconds to go. For a Boston team that had been a mere 1-of-11 on potential winning or tying shots with under 10 seconds to play in regulation or overtime, Pierce's triple was as clutch of a shot as the Celtics have made this season.
Rivers noted, "There’s a lot of good teaching points, except for the loss." Rivers also detailed the decision to play for the steal to set up the tying 3-pointer.
"We had a long debate, it was a hell of a situation, with 17 seconds left or whatever," said Rivers. "Should we foul? The problems was we had no timeouts, and they had a foul to give, so that combination, I actually went to the players and said, ‘Hey, listen, this is our situation.’ To a man, I think they said, 'Let’s not foul,' and I said, ‘Let’s trap. Let’s just keep trapping, they are going to think you’re going to foul if you trap, and that will make them pass the ball.’ We popped one loose, and got a 3.
"That’s as good as you can have at an end-of-the-game situation and getting back into the game. We scored quickly twice, then popped one and made the 3. It's good teaching for our guys later, that you're never out of the game. And that you never have the game won, it can go either way."