|ESPN.com: NBA Playoffs 2010||[Print without images]|
BOSTON -- Call them The Other Three.
After the Cleveland Cavaliers rallied from a double-digit deficit to tie the Celtics late in the third quarter of Sunday's Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Boston sent out a lineup that featured reserves Tony Allen, Glen Davis and Rasheed Wallace supplementing Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce.
That's not exactly a trio that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents. Yet with Boston playing what amounted to a must-win game, the Celtics leaned on those three for perhaps the most important stretch of the 2009-10 season.
And all Allen, Davis and Wallace did was spark a 12-0 run that spanned into the fourth quarter as the Celtics pulled off a 97-87 triumph that tied the series at two games apiece as it shifts back to Cleveland.
Allen racked up 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting and finished a team-best plus-14 in the plus-minus category. Davis chipped in five points and three rebounds, while providing the type of energy that statistics can't measure. Wallace overcame four first-half fouls to be a defensive presence and, despite not making a single shot, was dubbed "amazing" by coach Doc Rivers.
"Our bench is huge for us, we can't win without them," said Pierce, whose continued struggles were offset largely by the play of the reserves. "We said it from the start of the series, we need different guys on different nights. [In Game 2], Rasheed stepped up. Tonight, it was Tony Allen and Big Baby. It's going to have to come from a number of guys on any given night, but we have to have it."
The game knotted at 72 in the final seconds of the third quarter, Rondo and Allen got out on the break. Even with LeBron James motoring from behind ready to produce (another) "SportsCenter"-worthy block from behind, Rondo weaved a behind-the-back feed around the two-time MVP and Allen produced a layup to ignite Boston's run.
Allen came up with a steal at the start of the fourth quarter and again Boston was off on a 2-on-1 break with James chasing. This time Allen and Rondo flip-flopped roles, but it was the same result, a layup. Davis soon sandwiched a pair of layups around another Allen driving bucket as the Celtics raced to the rim and took an 84-72 lead with 8:40 to play.
With the season hanging in the balance, Allen and Davis -- both of whom started the season on the injured list -- provided the biggest spark outside of Rondo's otherworldly self.
|In addition to playing stellar defense on LeBron James, Tony Allen scored 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting.|
"That was key, a big, big, big moment for us," said Davis. "It kind of dictated the game, the way it was going to be played in the fourth quarter. Rondo did a great job making the calls and we made the right plays at the right time."
But more than anything, Boston's reserves looked like they wanted it more. Coming into the series, Rivers stressed that Boston needed to neutralize Anderson Varejao's energy off the Cleveland bench. He had terrorized Boston during the Cavaliers' two regular-season wins over the Celtics.
Varejao scored eight of Cleveland's mere 11 bench points Sunday and had three rebounds, and just one offensive carom. The Cavaliers didn't generate a single second-chance point.
Did the Celtics want it more than Cleveland in Game 4?
"We always want it," said Davis. "I know I want it more than them, if that's what you're asking me."
But could he feel it?
"We went out there and played hard," said Davis. "That's the motto. When we play hard, good things happen."
Wallace missed all three shots he took and had four fouls in just eight first-half minutes, retreating to the bench just 2:09 into the second quarter.
Yet he didn't draw a whistle in 11 second-half minutes and still was a factor defensively. His plus/minus tells the story: plus-12, just a tick behind Rondo.
"Rasheed was amazing tonight," said Rivers. "Energy and rebounding -- he did so many of the little things."
If not for Rondo's efforts (29 points, 18 rebounds, 13 assists), Allen might have been all the rage after Sunday's game for his dogged effort in both guarding James and providing a punch on offense. Essentially, he did what Pierce has been unable to do.
Consider that for a moment. As Boston's captain struggles at both ends of the court, it's Allen -- a tantalizing enigma during his six seasons in Boston -- who finally seems to have put it together. He expends full effort on defense now, yet still finds a way to get involved on offense, often racing to the basket on breaks and being rewarded with layups.
"Tony Allen may have been the biggest reason we won, after Rondo," said Rivers, offering a quote that couldn't have been fathomed before the season, when Allen aggravated an ankle injury and missed the start of the campaign.
Then again, nothing is as it seems from the start of the campaign.
When the NBA handed out its Sixth Man of the Year award last month, not a single Celtics reserve received a vote. It wasn't exactly a surprise. But that's not how the team drew things up eight months ago.
Before the 2009-10 season tipped off, Boston's renewed championship hopes were attached to the additions the team made to its bench. After falling in seven games in the Eastern Conference semifinals to eventual conference champion Orlando, Boston seemed to reload with additions like Wallace and Marquis Daniels.
Fast-forward to the present, where Daniels has fallen into a "break in case of emergency only" position at the end of the Celtics' bench and Wallace is overachieving when he "does the little things."
The Celtics traded Eddie House for Nate Robinson, and the slam dunk champ has been a glorified cheerleader at times. Boston signed Michael Finley, and he's hardly been a game-changer.
But as Rivers stressed before this series, the Celtics cannot win with their starting five playing 48 minutes.
And it's Davis and Allen, the only bench holdovers from Boston's postseason success the last two years, providing the spark with a little help from Wallace.
The efforts of The Other Three ensure that the Big Three will have at least one more home game together in Thursday's Game 6. And if they continue to excel, these Celtics might just keep playing beyond that.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.