NEW YORK -- Boston Celtics forward Brandon Bass chuckled when informed that his coach had labeled his Game 1 performance as "perfect." That was impossible, Bass countered, considering his team did not win.
"I felt I could have done a little bit more to help us," Bass said of Boston's 85-78 loss to the New York Knicks on Saturday in the opening game of the teams' Eastern Conference first-round series. "I'll try to give a better effort the next game and see if it can help us win."
Bass finished with four points and a team-high 10 rebounds over 32 minutes, 41 seconds of floor time. The point total probably wasn't as lofty as he might have liked, but Bass did make the only two shots he took. What's more, his defense helped cool Carmelo Anthony in the first half, and Bass finished plus-two in plus/minus, one of only two Celtics players to be on the positive side (Paul Pierce was the other).
"I thought Brandon played the perfect game for us," Rivers said. "I thought defensively he guarded Melo well [and] he took shots when he should have. He moved the ball a lot because they were coming. I don't see anything he did wrong."
Bass' late-season turnaround has been rather remarkable, given that his 2012-13 campaign has been far from perfect. His production at both ends of the floor sagged at times at the start of the season, and he was replaced twice in the starting lineup (first by since-traded Jason Collins and later by rookie Jared Sullinger).
Bass made strides in the second half but really launched when Kevin Garnett sat out eight straight games due to left ankle inflammation. Over the final 13 games of the regular season, 10 of which Garnett missed, Bass averaged 12.7 points on 58 percent shooting to go along with 5.4 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game.
Those stats are much more in line with the sort of play he showcased throughout the 2011-12 season that earned him a three-year, $19.4 million contract this past offseason. Bass entered the postseason playing his best ball and maintained it in Game 1.
Which left Garnett offering hefty praise Monday when he noted, "[Bass is] like glue. He does the small things that you don't normally see on the stat sheet. He's a big part of our team."
And yet, Bass, the 27-year-old forward often content to fly quietly below the radar, said he expects more from himself. Bass wonders if he could have been more aggressive offensively or if he could have chased down a few more rebounds at both ends of the floor.
A perfect game? Hardly.
Bass did have an inspired defensive performance, especially with his willingness to take on Anthony. Like any great scorer will, Anthony got his points, particularly in situations when Boston's defense got cracked in pick-and-roll coverage. But Bass hung in there, even after one less-than-flattering sequence in which he got spun around trying to recover from leaving his feet before Anthony splashed a baseline jumper.
Bass, who was tasked with guarding LeBron James for parts of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals last season, wouldn't tip his hand when asked his formula for guarding elite scorers. And, again, he suggested there's room for improvement.
"I can't tell you my secrets," he said with a smile. "I don't want them to read it. But the guy still had an unbelievable game, so I've still got to continue to defend him better."
At times this season it seemed like Bass' defense had regressed. But as Boston dug in on that side of the ball with the return of Avery Bradley in January, Bass emerged as a steady defensive presence, eliminating many of the hiccups that were on display earlier in the season.
Rivers gushed at season's end about how, without Garnett on the floor, it was Bass who took a more vocal role and demanded accountability from his teammates. That's a huge step in his progress.
According to Synergy Sports data, Bass allowed 0.756 points per play (536 points on 709 plays). Among all NBA players with at least 475 defended possessions, Bass ranked seventh overall (Bradley topped the list at a minuscule 0.697, but Bass was in the cluster behind him, with Taj Gibson second overall at 0.744 points allowed per play).
You won't find Bass among those getting votes for defensive player of the year when the award is announced this week (Bradley and Garnett will be on the list), but it speaks volumes that Rivers has the confidence to use him against elite scorers.
Synergy data suggests Bass thrived this season in pick-and-roll situations, and his athleticism allows him to either stick with bigs or switch to wing players. That's a luxury for Boston that allows Rivers to rotate a three-man group of Bass, Pierce and Jeff Green on Anthony and switch pick-and-rolls, which helps limit Anthony's ability to drive and kick for New York's desired 3-point looks.
Given the Celtics' offensive struggles, particularly in the second half of Saturday's loss, they could use a boost from Bass moving forward. Both he and Rivers admit he didn't have many quality looks, and Bass must settle for finding shots in the flow of the Celtics' offense. Better ball movement could get him more shots in Game 2.
"He didn't have a lot of great shot opportunities," Rivers said. "When he gets them, he'll take them. You don't have to worry about Brandon not taking his shot. That's a fact. But what's good about it, he didn't think about it. He didn't try to force it. I thought of all our guys, he played the perfect game for us."
No, Bass said, that requires a win. If he can play another solid all-around game and the Celtics even up the series on Tuesday, he'll grab a thesaurus and help Rivers find the perfect adjective for that performance.