Survival Mode: C's Drop Wiz Amid Adversity
WASHINGTON – The Boston Celtics were put into the basketball version of survival mode Wednesday night in Washington, D.C., and they knew that as well as anyone.
“Think about it,” Jeff Green said after the game. “We’ve got (Rajon) Rondo, (Jerryd) Bayless, Avery Bradley out.”
That’s three of the top four guards on the roster, all missing in action, and the adversity didn’t stop there.
“We had a rookie point guard starting. We had two D-League guys who had to fill in,” Gerald Wallace added. “We just played in Miami last night. We got in at 3 o’clock in the morning.”
The list of obstacles had piled high for Boston, as Brad Stevens noted after the game.
“Just a lot of reasons to give up,” he said before uttering his most important statement of the night.
“But they didn’t do that.”
They sure didn’t. Not on this night.
“We didn’t let any of that affect us,” a jovial Kris Humphries said after the game. “We came and got a win.”
It was a dramatic win at that. The Celtics boarded their plane back to Boston with a 113-111 overtime triumph over a Wizards team that had won six of its previous nine games. According to Wallace, the team was able to battle through a night filled with adversity by approaching the game with a very specific mindset.
“We don’t have anything to lose,” Wallace said of the vibe in Boston’s locker room prior to tip-off. “Let’s just go out and play loose, play together and kind of have fun in the game. I think that’s what we did tonight and it brought us closer together.”
There were two Celtics in particular who played as loose as they have all season. Jeff Green and Phil Pressey were the lynchpins to Boston’s improbable victory.
Green was the man of the night after putting together the top performance of his season. He scored a game-high 39 points, hauled in nine rebounds and finished with the game’s top plus/minus rating of plus-10.
Remember that game against Miami last season, the one that featured 43 points from Green against LeBron James and the Heat? He was unstoppable and relentless in attacking the basket that night. Miami knew it had no answers.
Wednesday’s performance was very similar, yet very different at the same time. Green was again unstoppable, but this time it was from the perimeter.
The swingman launched 16 3-pointers against Washington and splashed home half of them. His eight makes from beyond the arc match the highest mark by any Celtics player in more than 11 years, according to Sean Grande, and they fall just one shy of Boston’s all-time record in a single game. Take a moment to think about the great long-range shooters who have donned a Celtics uniform. Green nearly did something none of them had done before.
Nothing was stopping Green after he swished home his first two shots of the game. At that point, the only thing between his shot and points on the scoreboard was the twist of the twine.
“When you make the first couple your confidence starts to get sky-high,” Green said after dazzling the fans in the Verizon Center, where he had previously played when he starred for Georgetown. “That’s what happened, and I just decided to keep shooting and my teammates were finding me.”
Green was the zone, according to his coach, and likely wanted this night to last forever.
“You don’t always see the basket that big,” Stevens said, “but when you’re in it, boy… you want the game to go to overtime so you can keep shooting.”
The game did go to overtime, where Green scored the final five points of his night. On Boston’s final possession, however, he stepped aside and allowed Wallace to go to work. Wallace put home a driving layup with 2.5 seconds left to seal the victory for Boston.
Wallace’s driving layup and Green’s electric shooting drew oohs and ahhs from the Verizon Center crowd. Following the game, however, Pressey was the man who received the majority of the locker room love. Teammates pinpointed him as the catalyst to Boston’s surprisingly explosive offense.
“I think it all started with Phil,” Jared Sullinger said after the win. “He took every shot that he took with confidence. We needed that the whole time. When Phil made [the Wizards] guard him, it made it so much easier for us to score.”
Pressey is most accustomed to jumpstarting the offense with his elite vision and passing skills. Sparking the offense with his shot-making? That has been at the bottom of his to-do list.
The rookie has been passive with his shot this season, and for good reason. He entered Wednesday’s game with a field goal percentage of 23.5 percent and a 3-point percentage of 15.8 percent. Still, though, the Celtics have been pushing Pressey to let it fly.
“We have been imploring him to shoot on every catch that he’s open, because he has to,” Stevens said.
Pressey was open quite a bit Wednesday night, and he came through on his teammates’ demands. He shot 7-of-10 from the field and 5-of-6 from 3-point range against the Wizards, and subtly gave credit to those around him for his superb effort.
“My teammates were telling me to shoot when I’m open, shoot it with confidence,” he said after his second career start. “When your teammates have confidence in you to keep shooting, sooner or later it’s going to fall.”
They fell Wednesday night, just as the Washington Wizards did. You can safely bet that no one expected either of those two things to happen. Proof of such had been festering in the media room less than an hour before tip-off.
“There’s no Rondo, Pierce or Garnett tonight, fellas,” one Washington scribe mocked. “But they do have Chris Johnson and Vander Blue!”
Yes, they certainly do, and those two players exhibited the same fight that Green, Pressey, and the rest of the C’s showcased in this game. This was the type of fight that any coach would enjoy.
“I like hungry,” a proud Stevens said after the game. “Hungry is fun to coach. Hungry is fun to be around.”
No one was as hungry as the Celtics were Wednesday night in Washington. They were set up to fail, but they found a way to win.
Funny what can happen when a team is fighting to survive.