Celtics bench cool and clutch
Pietrus, Dooling and Daniels among key contributors in battle of superstars
BOSTON --- Mickael Pietrus caught himself gazing up to the rafters before Sunday night's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference finals at TD Garden, just staring at the Boston Celtics' 17 championship banners and wondering what he could do to help add another.
His body won't allow him to contribute much in the way of offense, a bum right knee has stripped him of a once-consistent 3-point shot. Pietrus has instead pledged to do all the little things to help his team.
Like guard LeBron James on the final possession of regulation, or grab two key offensive rebounds in the final 91 seconds of overtime. That was just part of his Game 4 contributions during a 93-91 overtime triumph over the Miami Heat.
With help from Pietrus, this series is tied at 2-2 as it shifts back to Miami.
"Before the game, I was looking at these banners, the championships -- I want to put my name up there, too," Pietrus said. "It's going to take hard work, but I'm willing to work hard, trying to stop the best player on the other side. Trying to get us to the NBA Finals."
By now we should know how the story goes: Teams lean on their superstars in the postseason, but sometimes it's the supporting cast that makes the biggest difference. The past two games confirm as much for Boston.
Two days after Marquis Daniels dusted himself off and provided a rare bench spark in a Game 3 win, it was the likes of Pietrus, Daniels and Keyon Dooling providing key efforts in critical moments of Game 4.
So while Rajon Rondo shouldered the load (15 points, 15 assists), he knows it would have been all for naught without Pietrus and the reserves.
"I think [the bench has] been great for us," Rondo said. "Their play speaks for itself, but not just on the court, off the court. Those guys have been great -- great veteran leaders. Coming in and showing young guys how to do it. They haven't played many minutes in the playoffs, but when their names have been called, they've been delivering. That's what we need; it's a team effort.
"It's kind of similar to [2007-08 season]. The superstars get all the praise, but the guys like the P.J. Browns, the [James] Poseys -- it's similar to what [this bench is] doing this year."
Pietrus had missed three clean 3-point looks Sunday, but his defense kept him on the floor. Then, on the final possession of regulation, in a tied game, Pietrus drew the unenviable assignment of guarding James.
Pietrus prevented James from driving and when Kevin Garnett shuffled over with help defense, James gave up the ball, forcing Udonis Haslem to take a rushed shot that was way off the mark and ushered in overtime.
It wasn't the only time Pietrus would frustrate James. With 1:51 to play in the extra session, Pietrus gave up his body to draw a charge and the sixth foul on James, ending the superstar's evening (only the fourth time he has fouled out in his career and first since April 2008).
"I told him the other night, 'I don't care if you go 0-for-10, I could care less. I just want you to be the defensive player that you are,'" Celtics coach Doc Rivers explained of Pietrus. "And the gravy is the made shots. There were times earlier in his career if he missed a shot, he was done. It's amazing, his growth in that department."
Pietrus wasn't the only one chipping in for the reserves. Dooling scored 10 of Boston's 11 bench points, hitting a pair of second-quarter 3-pointers to help Boston build an 18-point first-half lead. Then there was Daniels, doing just enough to force Dwyane Wade to miss a potential winning 3-pointer on the final play of overtime.
"It's what I told [the media] the other day: We're not going to -- on most nights -- outscore the other bench. But we can stop scoring," Rivers said. "And our second unit, they come in and they give unbelievable effort and energy. I think, in a lot of ways, it inspires the starting unit when they see it. It's been terrific."
Pietrus did find a way to chip in offensively late in Game 4. With Boston clinging to a one-point lead with less than two minutes to play in OT, he twice skied from the weakside and hauled in a pair of offensive rebounds 27 seconds apart. Boston didn't convert any of the three consecutive opportunities, but it did eat a minute off the clock.
"MP's two offensive rebounds were huge," Kevin Garnett admitted. "They were totally momentum swingers. I think he's been a little bit hard on himself throughout this whole ordeal. Very, very, very passionate player, and he helps us in many different ways. And tonight, not only defensively, but he was so active on the boards, he gave us a chance to really wrap the game up."
Pietrus has been a boisterous figure in the Celtics' locker room this season, often joking and keeping things light. He's more likely to ask a reporter to go grab a chicken caesar salad than to get heavy on X's and O's.
But with the Celtics back in this series and the chance to get to the NBA Finals, Pietrus seemed a bit more focused and less animated as he stared down at the ground while tackling postgame queries on Sunday.
"The one thing you can always count on with me: I'm going to play hard, and I think that's what I did for my team tonight," Pietrus said. "My main focus is to go to Miami and try to get another one."
Pietrus has morphed his game to compensate for his injury, and that's all that Rivers can ask for.
"Doc said this before the playoffs started, 'When what you do isn't working, what can you bring to the team to help the team?' " Dooling recalled. "[Pietrus'] defense was amazing tonight. His offensive rebounds were huge for us. There's ways you can contribute without scoring."