Celtics Build Lead with Heavy Dose of Powe-time
Leon Powe dropped 21 points on the Lakers, and he'll head home to California for at least Game 3 and Game 4 as the Celtics aim to win #17.
Peter F. Stringer/Celtics.com
At the TD Banknorth Garden Sunday night, the team that brought the NBA "Showtime" fell victim to some serious "Powe-time."
Leon Powe, the Celtics' second-year power forward, scored 21 points in 15 minutes off the bench, pushing his team to a 108-102 victory over the Lakers in Game 2 of the NBA Finals. Powe nailed six of seven shots from the low post and garnered 13 free throws from his repeated assaults upon the basket.
"He was huge for us," teammate Paul Pierce said after the game. "We know what the Laker bench can bring, but we feel like we have the best bench in this series, and Leon went out there and proved it tonight."
With the Celtics down 20-19, Powe entered the game in the final minute of the first quarter and remained in play to start the second. In the first three minutes of the latter frame, Sam Cassell and Paul Pierce repeatedly looked for Powe down low, and the young forward responded by drawing shooting fouls on Sasha Vujacic, Ronny Turiaf, and Luke Walton. Minutes later, Powe converted a three-point play, giving the team a 10-point advantage.
"We made a concerted effort to get [Powe] the ball in the post in that one stretch in the first quarter, and when he came in the second quarter he responded," said Celtics' Coach Doc Rivers. "I thought that, [in the] first six minutes of the game, we established no post game. We actually had to go to Leon to establish a post game."
Pierce likewise called attention to Powe's early presence in the post.
"We got him the ball -- he had a mismatch, they tried to put a small guy on him. We feel like we can go to the guy. He's proven throughout the course of the year [that] once he posts up, get him the ball. And we've developed confidence that he can get the job done.
Powe also played a major role as the Celtics expanded their lead in the late stages of the third quarter and the beginning of the fourth. Early in the final quarter, Powe blew by an overmatched Walton for a driving layup that put the Celtics up 85-64. A few minutes later, after receiving an inbound pass from Rajon Rondo, Powe took the ball coast to coast, converting an easy dunk to give the Celtics a seemingly insurmountable 93-71 advantage with eight minutes to go.
After the game, Powe talked about that unusual cross-court drive.
"Doc just told us, if they pressure us, just get it, just be aggressive with it. Make a decision but be aggressive with it because you don't want them to keep pressuring you every time. What I [saw] was a lane and I thought I could get there, and fortunately for me, I got there."
To date, the playoffs have been something of a roller-coaster experience for the young forward. After establishing himself as a mainstay of Rivers' rotation during the regular season and first round of the postseason, Powe saw his minutes decline during the Cavaliers' series. In part, Powe suffered lapses on the defensive end, but the emergence of P.J. Brown also impacted his playing time. Powe played only four of the six games in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Pistons and averaged two points in four and a half minutes per game.
In sizing up the Lakers, the Celtics' coaching staff believed that Powe's size and strength would provide an advantage in the post and thus called his number in Game 1. Powe responded with four points and four rebounds in nine minutes, setting the stage for Sunday night's explosion.
With the Celtics' now only two wins away from a championship, the scene shifts to California, fittingly enough, Powe's place of birth. While relishing the opportunity to play big minutes in front of his hometown crowd, Powe, in light of his playoff experience thus far, promised to take nothing for granted.
"It would be great, but our job is to go out there and take it one game at a time, and you know, not try[ing] to get too carried away. if I get out there, I want to have a good game but also just want to help my team doing the things in the flow of the offense, not trying to have a good game on my own, [not] doing too much."