ORLANDO – The fourth quarter. It’s often referred to as ‘winning time,’ and it’s the most pivotal frame of the game.
How do you come out on top when the game is on the line in crunch time? By making 'winning plays.'
That term was a popular one in Boston’s locker room following its thrilling 91-89 victory over the Magic Friday night in Orlando, Fla. The Celtics were the team that did everything it needed to in order to win its first road game of the season.
Avery Bradley's steal and dunk sparked the Celtics to their second straight victory.
Fernando Medina/NBAE/Getty Images
“That’s one thing that [Brad Stevens] touched on earlier, that we need to make winning plays,” Courtney Lee said after the triumph. “Avery (Bradley) made one when he stole the ball and got the and-one dunk.”
That’s the play that got it all started. Orlando called for a timeout while trailing 78-77 with 5:53 remaining in the contest. The very first play after that timeout changed the course of the game.
Victor Oladipo was the man Jaque Vaughn tasked with bringing the ball up the court on Orlando’s ensuing possession. That plan worked for about 47 feet, and then Bradley swooped in like a hawk.
Boston’s premier defender swiped the ball away from the unsuspecting Oladipo near mid-court and sped toward the Celtics' basket all in one motion. Within a millisecond, Bradley had thrown down a statement slam while being fouled by the Magic’s prized rookie.
That steal and slam put Boston on top 81-77 and sent a message to the rest of the team: this was the time to make those winning plays, and that was the first example.
Bradley combined with his backcourt buddy, Jordan Crawford, for the next example. It arrived with just more than four minutes remaining in the contest.
Bradley tipped a pass away from Oladipo and the ball wound up bouncing around near the right elbow of the court. Then, out of nowhere, came Crawford, diving into the fray to snatch up the loose ball and call a timeout.
The play was critical to the game and to the Celtics’ psyche. It was iconic in Stevens’ eyes.
“I think the most excited I’ve been since I moved to Boston, was when Jordan dove on that ball with [four] minutes left,” Stevens said at the beginning of his postgame press conference.
That press conference lasted for less than five minutes, yet Stevens managed to mention Crawford's hustle play several times. He’s seen Crawford play a lot of basketball throughout the years and he puts that play at the top of the guard’s highlight reel.
“The best play I’ve ever seen him make was diving on the floor like that, and I’ve seen him make some pretty good ones in college and in the pros,” the coach said. “That showed a real understanding of what it takes to win when it matters.”
The Celtics as a whole are beginning to understand what it takes to win when it matters. This is the second consecutive game in which they made the plays they needed in order to come out on top.
Friday night’s matchup with the Utah Jazz could have been an epic failure. What was once a 25-point, second-half lead dwindled all the way down to six in the final quarter. Yet somehow, some way, the Celtics figured out a way to pull out the victory.
Now, for the second time in three days, they did it again. Bradley made the steal-and-slam, Crawford sacrificed his body to haul in a loose ball, and all five Celtics on the floor scored key points over the final three minutes in Orlando.
The trend of letting games get away in the fourth quarter has been burned to a crisp. Now it’s time to get familiar with this team doing what it takes to win as its confidence continues to grow.
“It’s great experience,” Crawford stated. “It’s always good to get the win, too, but early in the season to get these types of close-game experiences, it will carry over later in the season.”
Winning people make winning plays in winning time. The Boston Celtics have been the epitome of that statement over the past three days.