- Jackie MacMullan, ESPNBoston.com columnist
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BOSTON -- Just as you were cursing the myriad of torturous ways the Boston Celtics managed to lose leads -- and games -- they turned around and discovered some genuinely surprising ways to win one.
Seriously. If there was a single person out there willing to bet me the high scorer in Game 5 of this highly charged Boston-Philly series was going to be Brandon Bass, I would have wagered a million dollars against it.
And I would have wound up broke.
Bass, the most unlikely of heroes, sat basking in his first postseason podium appearance after dropping 27 on the Philadelphia 76ers, confessing he was a bit nervous but "very grateful" for the sudden notoriety.
"Grinding is what got me to this point, and that's what I'm going to continue to do," he said.
In his first 10 playoff games with the Celtics, Bass missed 51 of the 90 shots he took. At one point in Game 2, he clanged nine consecutive attempts. He was submitting an average defensive effort and not proving to be a particularly forceful rebounder. His plus-minus was a modest plus-5, which is why, when these games were on the line, he was the only starter who watched the fourth quarter from the bench, his warm-up jacket tightly fastened.
"It's been a process for him," teammate Keyon Dooling revealed. "We've been trying to get him in the mentality where he buys into what our team needs. Some nights it's 38 minutes. Some nights it's sitting and watching in the fourth quarter.
"Early in the season he didn't handle that really well. But as we've gone on, he's come to understand it."
With the already thin Celtics announcing before tipoff that Avery Bradley would not dress because of recurring shoulder woes, coach Doc Rivers fretted aloud about the need for someone -- anyone -- to pick up the slack.
His power forward didn't exactly shoot up his hand, but Bass has been told by his coaches again and again that he enjoyed a favorable matchup in this series and needed to exploit it. So Bass spent some extra time Sunday in the film room, rewinding his offensive opportunities and breaking down what he needed to do to capitalize on them.
Bass' comfort zone is on the perimeter. But the Sixers had been charging hard at him to contest those looks, which led to the notion that maybe he should put the ball on the floor and drive past them, or perhaps he would have some success exploiting Philly's front line playing pick-and-roll with Rajon Rondo.
"Bass is capable of doing that," said soft-spoken Sixers rookie Lavoy Allen, who up until Monday night was being touted as a KG killer. "And with Rondo running things he's so creative."
Indeed, Boston's newest playoff darling owes much of his newfound celebrity to his point guard. It was Rondo who spread the floor, controlled tempo and created high-percentage chances for Bass, whose 27 points included five dunks and 9-of-13 shooting. After taking just eight total free throws in the first four games against Philly, Bass went to the line 10 times Monday night and converted nine of them. His aggressiveness was a direct byproduct of Rondo's court vision.
"Right now this is a Brandon and Kevin [Garnett] series," offered Ray Allen (2-for-7). "Rondo understands it. Me and Paul [Pierce] understand it. We're making whatever plays we need to make in order to get those guys shots."
Rondo, who checked out with 13 points, 14 assists and 0 second-half turnovers, was immense in the final two quarters, when the Celtics torqued up their defense, then unleashed a flurry of offensive spurts off turnovers that left the Sixers on their heels.
"[Rajon] was the catalyst for the whole attack when they were breaking the game open," Philadelphia coach Doug Collins said.
"I thought the second half was one of the best games [Rondo's] had, in my opinion, this year," Rivers declared. "Because I thought it was more than just the basketball part of it. I thought his will, his leadership, we needed it whether he scored, I didn't care what he did. He played with force, got us in our stuff.
"I could hear him barking at guys, demanding guys to get into spots. And that's not something he loves doing."
Rondo, Bass, et al trudged into the locker room down three points at the half with precious few highlights to discuss (a spirited eight points on 4-of-4 shooting from Greg Stiemsma was one unexpected development). That's when Dooling -- who, despite his limited minutes, continues to capture the attention of his more celebrated All-Star teammates with his rhetoric -- pleaded with the Celtics to play together.
The game turned around after a questionable offensive foul call on Garnett early in the third, leading to a 10-0 run (with six of those points from Bass) and a 63-57 Boston advantage. Before that burst, the Celtics hadn't led since the 5:37 mark of the first quarter, but this time they would not relinquish the lead. Bass, spurred on by his offensive success, began manning up defensively and ripping rebounds off the rim. He tallied 18 points in the third quarter alone.
"Well, I didn't know I did that," he said, grinning.
Asked what Bass had done differently in Game 5, Rivers deadpanned, "The ball went in, for one thing."
His coach later mentioned Bass' energy and his ability to (finally) play without the tightness that had limited him earlier in the series.
"I think to be a great playoff player at some point you've just got to let yourself go to the team and just play," Rivers said. "Everything else will take care of itself.
"He played free tonight. Now we have to keep him there."
Bass checked out with 2:01 left to his first standing ovation of his Celtics career. By then Gino was on the JumboTron and the "Scal-a-brine" chants were wafting from the rafters.
Meanwhile, the young, resilient Philly players vowed to look at some film of their own. It's doubtful that Lou Williams and Andre Iguodala will combine for 6-of-20 shooting again. It's also doubtful the Sixers will allow Bass to dunk on their heads again.
Lavoy Allen promised he will be better in defending the pick-and-roll in Game 6 on Wednesday night.
"We've got to make it tougher on Bass," he said. "He and Rondo made it look easy."
Nothing is ever easy for the Boston Celtics, even with a career night from their power forward that would have left most betting men (and women) with an empty wallet.
Brandon Bass was 'the man' for the Celtics in Game 5? You bet he was.