Posted May 22 2012 8:54AM - Updated May 22 2012 11:11AM
BOSTON -- The NBA is a league of stars, and most playoff series are determined by the guys with the max contracts. Sometimes, in a critical moment, a role player steps up and makes a difference.
Brandon Bass did just that in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, a 101-85 Boston Celtics victory that gave them a 3-2 series lead and put the Philadelphia 76ers on the brink of elimination. Out of nowhere, Bass provided the latest plot twist in what has been a back-and-forth series, with neither team winning two straight games.
On Monday, Bass tied a career high with 27 points, including 18 in the pivotal third quarter, when the Celtics turned a six-point deficit into a nine-point lead. He did what Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and other stars have not done this postseason: score the most points in a quarter by an individual.
And it was a lift Boston desperately needed. They were shorthanded, missing starter Avery Bradley. They couldn't match the Sixers' energy in the first half, and they were just happy to be within striking distance when Bass went on his run.
"We need different guys, on different nights to step up," Paul Pierce said. "A lot of times they're going to collapse on me, [Rajon] Rondo, KG and there are opportunities for other guys to take advantage."
The key to Bass' offensive outburst was a mix of energy, patience and aggressiveness. The energy came on the glass, on defense, and in transition, where he got a bucket and a pair of free throws.
|Most points in a quarter, 2012 Playoffs|
The patience was something new. The man known as "No-Pass Bass" is usually quick to take his shot at the first opportunity. On Monday, he was willing to give the ball up and wait to get it back.
"One of the things we keep trying to get Brandon to do is get to the second pick," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I just thought he kept the game simple in the second half. He didn't try to do too much. He let the game come to him. And he trusted his teammates, by throwing an extra pass to Rondo, Rondo throwing it back."
The aggressiveness was part-Bass, part-Sixers. Philly has been doubling Pierce in the post and on the pick and roll for most of the series. That leaves other guys open, and nine of Bass' points came as a direct result of the attention the Sixers were paying to Pierce.
"We were making a conscious effort to try and keep Paul Pierce down," Sixers coach Doug Collins said, "and he did a good job stringing us out and making some plays along that baseline. They were just quicker to the basket, Brandon was."
Bass' aggressiveness in Game 5 was different from the aggressiveness he showed in Game 2, when he launched 12 shots, mostly jumpers, in the first half. Through the first four games of the series, 28 of his 44 shots had come from outside the paint.
But on Monday, Bass looked to go around defenders closing out on his jumper. Seven of his 13 shots were from within the paint, he was 4-for-5 from within five feet of the basket and his 10 free throw attempts matched his season high.
"It was just me taking advantage of my opportunity," Bass said. "They've been doubling Paul and we got a few good players on the team that they've got to focus on, so they left me open tonight. And I was able to hit the shots."
Not only did the Celtics need this performance, but Bass needed it himself to earn the trust of his coach and teammates. In the first four games, he had played a grand total of three seconds in the fourth quarter, with Rivers choosing to go small in critical moments. In Game 5, Bass earned more than eight fourth-quarter minutes.
"After missing some shots, I just reverted back to what got me here," Bass said. "And that's spending time in the gym getting up a bunch of shots."
For Rivers, Bass' performance was about a lot more than just the shots going in.
"I thought the biggest difference was his energy," Rivers said. "I thought he went after rebounds, he played with a force, and I just thought he let himself go. I think players have that in the playoffs at some point. They get so caught up into themselves that they're not playing well, and I think to be a great playoff player at some point you've just got to let yourself go to the team and just play. And everything else will take care of itself. I thought he played very free tonight, and now we have to keep him there."
This series has not been easy for the Celtics, especially offensively. And, facing elimination, the Sixers will surely put up a fight in their own building in Game 6 on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN). But that's a much better scenario for Boston then what might be the situation if Bass didn't play the game of his life on Monday.
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