The way Tony Allen had it figured, he had been going over the pick and roll all night in an effort to force Dwyane Wade from doing what Wade does best: barrel his way to the basket.
The problem is that Wade is not one of the best players in the league simply because of his ability to score. Sure, Wade was on his way to a 30-point night, but he had also racked up 13 assists mostly by hitting his big men for jumpers after Allen had gone under the screen to stop him from attacking the basket.
So, with a minute left and the Celtics clinging to a fourth-quarter lead — the kind of lead they have let slip away time and again the last month — Tony Allen made an adjustment.
“I just went under it the second time, and right when I went under, it split and I was able to get a hand on it,” Allen said. “He’s a hell of a player. I was just fortunate enough to get a stop.”
Fortunate indeed, because Allen’s lockdown defense, and clutch free throws, helped preserve a hard-fought, and much-needed 107-102 win for the Celtics over the Heat on Wednesday night. (Recap.)
Allen’s play also justified the faith Doc Rivers has shown in him the last few years. Rivers has said time and again that Allen can be the perimeter stopper for this team.
“You can say [to Allen], ‘You guard him,’” Rivers said. “And every night – there’s not a team in the league that I can think of that doesn’t have a good 2 or 3 on their team. So, every night you can say, ‘Tony, you guard this guy.’ It helps our defense.”
It also helps that Allen came up so big on a night when Paul Pierce was nattily attired in a brown suit instead of his usual No. 34. It also helps that Allen stepped up big on a night when Rajon Rondo had put the entire team on notice with his comments in the Herald. It most definitely helped that Allen wasn’t the only one.
It was, as the cliché goes, a great team win, with fantastic individual performances all around. Which leads us into our three things:
RONDO’S STATEMENT, AND PLAY, MAKE AN IMPACT
We’ll give the first word to Kevin Garnett, whose last words of his post-game press conference rang out.
“Let me say something, and I’m not speaking for [Rondo],” Garnett began as he fielded the question that was intended for Rondo. “On this team we have a lot of strong personalities, and at the end of the day, we are all seeking, especially when we lose. I remember last year when we lost to Portland, lost three straight, I could just sense everyone within themselves was just trying to do more than they should. Or reverting back to being leaders on their team versus the way we have been doing it. When I read the comments, and talked to [Rondo] personally, because we have a lot of personal conversations, that’s what it was.
“We’re not a team here that points fingers. We keep everyone accountable. Everybody knows that within the locker room, but if we have anything that needs to be said, it will be said within the closed confinements of the locker room and among each other as men. And I want everyone to respect that, all right?”
To which Rondo simply said, “Word.”
Two things are telling about Rondo’s comments to the Boston Herald, in which he said too many agendas were creeping into the mix. No one thought he was wrong, but most would have preferred that he not talk about it with a reporter.
Locker room chemistry and team politics can be a fragile thing sometimes, and if Rondo overstepped his bounds, it wasn’t the first time and it probably won’t be the last. But no one was denying that he had a point.
It was almost too perfect that after his comments hit the paper, Rondo went out and played one of his best games of the season, which certainly doesn’t hurt his long-term standing among his teammates. In a word, Rondo was brilliant with 22 points, 14 assists, six rebounds and three steals.
There’s no telling how this will play out in the long run. If there’s any lingering bitterness, then the Celtics aren’t as mentally tough as they think they are, and if they end up ripping off a winning streak, his comments will probably be remembered as that elusive “turning point,” long after this little tempest has blown over.
What is certain is that Rondo has put himself on the front lines with his comments, but one can make the argument that as the best player on the team, he’s already there.
BALL MOVEMENT MAKES ITS TRIUMPHANT RETURN
The Celtics made 37 shots against the Heat. On 29 of those, they registered an assist. Numbers like that used to be commonplace with the Celtics, as predictable as Garnett’s pregame routine and Ray Allen’s jumpers.
The Celtics still are among the best passing teams in the league — they ranked second in assist ratio behind Utah — but that crisp movement, with the ball swinging quickly from one side to the other, has been a missing element lately.
Credit in large part goes to Rondo with his 14 assists, but Garnett also deserves his share. Long one of the NBA’s best passing big men, KG racked up nine assists of his own and just as many “hockey assists,” i.e., the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the basket.
“He’s a ball mover,” Rivers said. “And you need a couple of ball movers on every team. There’s times when you’re mad at Kevin for being a ball mover. He had one [tonight] where he caught it next to the basket and made the extra pass and we scored. But there’s times when you say, ‘Let’s just go ahead and shoot that one.’ But that’s a disease I would rather have.”
From the beginning, the passing was crisp and excellent, so much so that Ray Allen made a point of telling Rondo that the ball was, as he said, “hopping.”
“It was contagious,” Rondo said. “It started when we came out, first play of the game. When guys are moving the ball, we are a great team. We are fun to watch.”
For a team that doesn’t rely on post-ups and isolation sets, particularly with Pierce out, ball movement is an essential ingredient to offensive success. For one night, at least, it was back in vogue.
ALSO RETURNING TO THE GARDEN: EDDIE HOUSE FOR 3
It’s been an under-the-radar development with the Celtics this season, but Eddie House has struggled with his shot almost as much as Ray Allen.
Coming into Wednesday’s game, House was shooting under 40 percent from the field and a shade under 37 percent from 3-point range. He also has seemed to set an unofficial league mark for long two-pointers.
Those aren’t terrible numbers, but they are off compared to last season when House knocked down 3’s at a 44 percent clip. Without a reliable scorer coming off the bench, House’s shooting is a key component for the second unit, and not surprisingly, the second unit has struggled at times this season.
House finished with 16 points, his best production since dropping 19 against the Suns in a late December blowout. It was only the third time in the last 10 games that House has gone for double figures, and he has had a pair of goose-eggs in the last four.
“Eddie was great,” Rivers said. “He was one shot away from being taken out, too.”
Such is the eternal basketball struggle of Eddie House. His shooting keeps him in the league, and there is no doubt that he plays hard and willingly does whatever Rivers asks him to do. But if his shot isn’t falling, he isn’t playing.
“When Eddie makes shots and he can defend at all for us,” Rivers said, “it allows us to keep him on the floor.”
The Celtics needed House, just as they needed Tony Allen to come up with a huge defensive stop and Rondo to take over the game. That’s how they used to do it, and that’s how they need to do it from here on out.