BOSTON — Brandon Bass had played in 38 playoffs games in his career before Monday night, and not once had he ever been asked to come to the podium for a postgame news conference. Bass, a reserve forward for the majority of his first six NBA seasons, usually conducts interviews in front of his locker, with a few writers and the occasional TV camera.
That was why, after the finest postseason performance of his career, Bass entered the media room at the TD Garden with some trepidation. He was a stranger to the setting that included spotlights, multiple microphones and dozens of media members congregated before him.
“This is the first time for a lot of things for me, and I’m grateful,” Bass said. “That’s why you see all these beads [of sweat] on my forehead, because I’m nervous, but I’m grateful.”
The Celtics had to be grateful to Bass as well in their 101-85 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday. Bass carried the team when things looked grim, helping turn a six-point Sixers advantage into a nine-point Celtics lead in a stunning third-quarter performance.
Bass scored 18 points in the third quarter — coming within one point of his previous playoff high of 19 points — en route to a game-high 27 points. He showed off his full array of moves, scoring via three dunks, three jump shots, and six free throws in the full 12 minutes. But Bass had not had time to ponder whether it was the best game of his career.
“I haven’t thought too much about it,” Bass said. “For me it’s just hard work. My motto is, ‘God, grind, greatness.’ And grinding is what got me to this point and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
Bass looked tentative in the first round against the Hawks before getting slightly more involved in the offense in this series. Rajon Rondo made a concerted effort to create more shots for Bass in Game 2 against the Sixers, and the result was an unsightly 5-for-15 shooting performance.
Coming off a solid Game 4, when he scored 15 points in the first three quarters but logged only three seconds of playing time in the fourth quarter, Bass again seemed to have trouble working his way into the offense. He had five points on 2-for-5 shooting at halftime.
That was when everything changed not only for Bass, but for the entire Celtics team. “Reverend [Keyon] Dooling stepped up and gave us a little sermon,” Bass said, “and let us know we had to play for each other.” Bass has studied video of his positioning on offense and rebounds in an attempt to increase his production, and teammate Ray Allen noticed a marked improvement in Bass’ decision-making.
“I guarantee he will tell you it was one of the more difficult games he had to play,” Allen said. “He was in great position all night, he read the defense and made the right plays offensively the whole time.”
The Celtics love boxing analogies, so here is one: When a stronger fighter meets an opponent with superior reach and quickness, the stronger boxer tries to work in close to the body, inside his opponent’s reach and drawn in too tight for his opponent to escape.
Bass seemed to take that tack against shifty Sixers forward Thaddeus Young, who gave the Celtics all sorts of problems in Game 4. Instead of trying to sidestep Young on Monday, Bass went straight at him, muscling in close with his 30-pound weight advantage to nullify Young’s length and athleticism.
“I’m a bigger guy, a more physical guy, so I guess I’ve just got to be more aggressive and attack his body,” Bass said.
Bass’ outburst was a product of increased study and savvy play, but in the third quarter his best asset was not thinking too much. He recorded two steals in the quarter — almost doubling his total for the entire playoffs to this point — and committed only one turnover. The indecision that has caused him to hesitate on open jumpers or dribble cautiously into traffic was gone for 12 whole minutes.
He just played.
“I thought the biggest difference was his energy,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “I thought he went after rebounds, he played with force, and I just thought he let himself go. Players get so caught up into themselves if 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. Everything else will take care of itself.”
Everything will take care of itself, except those intimidating postgame news conferences. Bass drew some laughs with his honesty and his catchy motto, but he is probably better off keeping his day job. “God” and “grind” can be with him always, and on Monday, “greatness” made an appearance as well.