Avery Bradley, who had fouled out earlier in the possession, could only watch from the bench as the Bulls wrestled for the ball in the waning seconds. The scene was eerily similar to the teams’ last meeting, when a late-game scramble led to a game-winning shot by Marco Belinelli off a broken play. When the ball finally bounced into someone’s hands on Wednesday, Bradley realized with dread that person was Belinelli.
This time, there was no frantic game-winner. Jason Terry, who is often removed late in games to insert Bradley as a defensive replacement, swooped in and blocked Belinelli’s jump shot with two seconds left. Taj Gibson‘s desperate 3-pointer at the buzzer did not even draw iron, and the Celtics closed out their pre-All-Star break slate with a 71-69 win, their eighth victory in nine games.
It was a win Terry wanted badly, and a play the veteran guard intended to make all along.
“It was a flashback,” Bradley said. “Jet’s been talking about this game probably since the last time we played them. Every single day he’s been saying something about it, so it’s funny that he kind of had a similar situation and got the block at the end of the game. He’s been wanting this game so bad. He’s been talking about it every single day.”
Terry, like pretty much every player on the Celtics, is worn down by the rash of injuries that have stretched the roster thin. He logged more than 42 minutes in Boston’s triple-overtime win over Denver on Sunday, then clocked in for nearly 30 minutes the next night in Charlotte. He played another 26 minutes against the Bulls. It was not quite the workload Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce carried in the last four days, but it was a heavy load for a 35-year-old guard nonetheless.
Terry was not going to let fatigue limit him on Wednesday, however. He acknowledged that he had this game circled for weeks and that he re-watched the video of the previous meeting, when Belinelli’s off-balance jumper in overtime continued the Celtics’ downward spiral, which eventually grew to a six-game losing streak. When the ball found Belinelli, Terry decided, not this time.
“It was a situation similar to last time,” Terry said. “The clock’s winding down and it just ends up in this guy’s hands. Fortunately, I’ve been thinking about it the last two weeks. I watched the game [Wednesday] right before the game, and if it came down to that, I told myself I was going to get a stop at all costs.”
The funny thing was, Terry almost was not even on the court to get that stop. If Bradley had not been whistled for a dubious foul on Nate Robinson a few seconds earlier, Celtics coach Doc Rivers would never have called Terry’s number. Even as Terry has shown repeatedly this season that he is an outstanding off-ball defender, Rivers has swapped him out for Bradley whenever the Celtics need a late-game defensive stop. The coach admitted earlier this week that he apologized to Terry for removing him in favor of a defensive specialist despite Terry’s defense being so solid.
Still, Rivers was not about to change that strategy unless he had to. Perhaps Bradley fouled out on purpose, to give Terry a chance to seal a victory in a game he has eagerly anticipated for months?
“Yeah, you could say that,” Bradley said, laughing.
Things had a way of working out on Wednesday — for Terry, and for the Celtics.