The C's overcame the New Jersey Nets 89-83, but Delonte West wasn't around to see it, having departed before halftime with a broken right wrist. Trailing 46-38 at halftime and without their valuable third guard, the Celtics rallied together in the third quarter and gutted out a memorable victory. The C's are thankful to win this one.
It was only the Nets, and it was only a relatively meaningless late-November contest. There was no national TV audience to see it. But in its own right, this was a statement victory for the Celtics, who banded together before a packed TD Garden crowd to win one for Delonte.
West went down with 2:47 remaining in the second quarter, having collided at the rim with the Nets' Travis Outlaw as he finished a driving layup. The C's were down six at the time, and the deficit grew bigger before the break. They needed a total team effort to recover, and they got it.
"The second half, I thought we really responded with our energy," coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought we had that one stretch that really took the life out of our team. I think we missed five point-blank layups at the basket, and that was followed by Delonte's injury. You could just see the life go out of everybody, especially with Delonte — he just gets back, he's playing hard, and then 'bam.' That was tough."
The Celtics rushed to West's side in the locker room at halftime, surrounding their fallen teammate, checking on him, hoping and wishing he was OK, sending him good vibes. Then they returned to the floor in the second half, and they came out determined to come back and win.
They got countless big shots from their veteran Big Three, solid contribution off the bench from Glen Davis, and a handful of hustle plays from unsung hero Marquis Daniels. But above all, they got a dominating effort from Shaquille O'Neal, who destroyed the Nets in the low post en route to 25 points and 11 rebounds.
"He looked great," Kevin Garnett said of O'Neal. "I told him he looked the ’99 Shaq, the 2000 Shaq, the 2001 to 2002 to 2003 to 2004 to 2005 to 2006 Shaq. He looked fresh tonight. He looked really good. I thought he did a great job of getting us in the bonus early. He definitely was the target tonight, and we loved it. On this team night in and night out, we are going to have a different guy, from [Paul Pierce] to Ray [Allen] to anybody, and tonight it was Shaq."
But while one former Cleveland Cavalier was prospering at age 38, another endured a tragic night at 27. West's injury is yet another chapter in the disastrous story of his last two years — from his gun possession arrest last year, to his well-documented struggle with bipolar disorder, to his recent 10-game suspension.
It was also another sad episode for the Celtics, who are just 15 games into their season and have already battled injuries to Avery Bradley, Semih Erden, Jermaine O'Neal, Shaquille O'Neal, Rajon Rondo, and now West.
The Celtics triumphed over adversity on Wednesday night, but they'll have to do it a lot more down the road.
"What's new?" asked Pierce. "We've been dealing with this for the last couple of years. We're going to respond. We're not a team that hangs our heads and makes excuses when just one guy, or two guys, or three guys go down. We feel like the guys we put out there are more than capable of getting it done and winning ballgames against anybody."
In the coming weeks and months, they'll have to prove it.