Commentary

C's surprise yet again in taming Bulls

Updated: February 14, 2013, 1:57 AM ET
By Peter May | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- You Can't Make This Stuff Up.

That has to be the title of the Boston Celtics' DVD of the 2012-13 season. And we're not even two-thirds of the way through!

No one knows where this team is going, even (or maybe especially) after Wednesday night's 71-69 nose-holding victory over the Bulls. But as the Celtics enter the All-Star break, they have won eight of nine while losing three regulars in the process. They beat a very good team Wednesday night, making Chicago look at times like a CYO group. They are proving to be beyond resilient.

Think about it. They won a game by scoring 71 points while shooting 37 percent. They won a game in which Paul Pierce didn't make a single 2-point basket in 34 minutes. (He shot only 2-of-12 overall, both of them 3-pointers. He also missed two free throws.) They won a game scoring 11 points in the second quarter and then roaring back with 8 in the third.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Bass, Marquis Teague
AP Photo/Elise AmendolaIn this strangest of Celtics seasons, Brandon (No Pass) Bass took a turn as facilitator.

"You've got to love this team. You really do," said coach Doc Rivers, who nearly rested Kevin Garnett for the night, then wisely relented at the end. "We just keep talking about (how) we choose to live. We're not going to just roll over. And it's very important for our guys to understand. This is who we are."

The Celtics enter the All-Star break with a 28-24 record (and think where they'd be without some of those brutal, head-scratching losses among those 24). Amazingly, they not only are in the playoff hunt, but are only three games behind No. 3 Indiana in the loss column.

How is this happening, people?

"They're doing it collectively," said Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau. "The good teams figure it out. Between Pierce, Garnett and Doc, there's nothing they haven't seen."

Maybe we should have realized something was up when Brandon Bass registered four assists against the Clippers on Super Bowl Sunday. Bass will never be known as a point forward; to him, pass is a four-letter word. But on the reconfigured Celtics, he has shown an (occasional) ability to pass the ball. The four assists he had against the Clippers matched a career high.

Wednesday night, Bass was The Man. You might say it was about time, after 52 more or less underwhelming games. But better late than never. He made two signature plays, one of which completely turned the game around and the other which helped cement this most improbable of Celtics victories.

The Bulls were leading by seven in the fourth quarter (which took 41 minutes to play) and the Celtics looked like toast. They were defending well, but their offense? "We didn't have an offense," Jeff Green said. He was right.

But then Bass swiped the ball from Marco Belinelli at the top of the key and went the length of the court, dipsy-doodling around Marquis Teague, and finishing with a dunk. That basket galvanized an otherwise comatose crowd and a definitely comatose Celtics offense.

The dunk started a 12-0 run, which Green closed with a wraparound jam. But it may have been only the second-smartest play Bass made. With the Celtics still clinging to a 69-68 lead in the final minute, the team put on a 24-second clinic of ball movement which had to delight the coach.

The ball touched the hands of all five Celtics on the floor. The fourth Celtic to touch the ball was Bass and he had a shot possibility. As the clock was winding down, however, he did the unthinkable. He kicked it over to Kevin Garnett, open on the baseline, and Garnett nailed a 14-footer with 19.8 seconds left.

That's sort of how things have gone in the post-Rondo world. Strange things are indeed happening.

"That last shot KG got? Five guys touched it," Jason Terry said. "Brandon Bass -- who thought he would get the assist -- of all people -- for the closing basket?"

But he did. Terry, however, would have a big hand in deciding that it was, in fact, the closing basket. In the first 51 games of the season, Terry had recorded five blocked shots. He still had five as Nate Robinson stood at the free throw line with 6.2 seconds left and deliberately missed the second of two, hoping the Bulls would get the rebound and a tying or winning basket.

The Bulls somehow managed to get the rebound -- some things never change -- and the ball came to Belinelli, who had beaten the Celtics (and Terry) with a late basket in Chicago's Jan. 18 overtime victory over the Celtics. Terry, however, managed to get a hand on the ball as Belinelli tried to shoot, knocking the ball to the floor. Taj Gibson's scoop-and-hoist 3-pointer at the buzzer had no chance.

This was the second game in the past three where the supposedly defensively-challenged Terry has made a key play late in the game. He did so in the epic against Denver last Sunday, stripping Andre Miller. He was there again Wednesday, refusing to let Belinelli beat him again.

"It was a situation similar to the last time -- the clock's winding down and it just ends up in this guy's hands," Terry said. "But fortunately I've been thinking about it for the last two weeks, and if it came down to that, I told myself I was going to get a stop at all costs."

Jason Terry, stopper? Brandon Bass, facilitator? You really can't make this stuff up. You just have to enjoy it while you can because Rivers is right. It's hard not to like this team.

Peter May

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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