BOSTON — While Jason Terry was pumping up the crowd, both with his play and his gestures, Brandon Bass watched from the bench for most of the fourth quarter and all of overtime. Without Bass’ work, the Celtics would be headed to an early offseason, not a Game 5 in New York. Yet his contributions were not met with the roars that accompanied Terry’s many clutch shots.
With the season on the line, Bass was the player designated to primarily defend Carmelo Anthony on Sunday. It was a thankless job made even less enviable with four minutes left in regulation, when Bass was whistled for his sixth foul, forcing him to take a seat while his teammates finished off the 97-90 win over the Knicks. The Celtics staved off a first-round sweep in the Eastern Conference playoffs, but the player that coach Doc Rivers called “the star of the game” never set foot on the court in the final nine minutes.
“It’s tough [to defend Anthony] when you have no fouls,” Bass said. “When you have fouls — I just wanted to give my best effort and see what happened.”
For the third time in four games, Bass delivered an impressive defensive effort against the league’s scoring champ. He has been the Celtics’ best player in the series, Kevin Garnett‘s gutsy performance in Game 3 aside. Bass’ physical defense helped limit Anthony to 10-for-35 shooting in Game 4, and Anthony only managed to make a dent in the scoring column through his elite ability to get to the free throw line.
Bass was the focal point of the Celtics’ defensive work on Anthony, but he was far from the only one. Jeff Green and Paul Pierce were assigned to Anthony at times, with Green taking over the bulk of the duties after Bass fouled out. In fact, all three Celtics spent the game in foul trouble, with Green and Pierce finishing the game with five personal fouls each. (Garnett, once again toying with disqualification the whole game, ended up with four.) It was not the ideal way for the Celtics to contain Anthony, but the different looks kept him just off balance enough for the Celtics to steal a victory.
“Today I saw three, four different bodies,” Anthony said. “I even saw KG guarding me sometimes. When I see that, I’m just trying to be aggressive, get to the rack, get them in foul trouble. … That’s always the plan, especially here on the road. You’ve got to try to get to the free throw line.”
In a strange twist, Anthony’s efforts to put the Celtics in foul trouble might have backfired. The free-flowing offense that allowed the Knicks to win the first three games was replaced by isolation-heavy sets as Anthony made a concerted attempt to draw contact from his defender. Meanwhile, he looked off a red-hot Raymond Felton multiple times in the fourth quarter and overtime before launching a contested jump shot — which was exactly what the Celtics wanted.
Felton, predictably, shied away from criticizing his teammate. Whether being truthful or merely diplomatic, the Knicks point guard — who loves ill-advised shots as much as anyone — did not express any thoughts that his 27-point game could have been more if Anthony not been so single-minded.
“At the end of the day, you’re going to live or die with your go-to guy,” Felton said. “We had some things that worked all game. Screen and roll was great for us, but when the game is on the line, you’re going to give the ball to your man who puts the ball in the basket for you. I was able to get into the paint, hit some big shots, but when the game is on the line, you’re going to give the ball to No. 7. That’s what we’ve been doing all year. There’s no need to change it now.”
No matter what the Celtics do, Anthony is going to get his shots. He has averaged 28.3 shots per game in the series, and that is not at all out of character. In Bass, Green and Pierce, though, the Celtics have a varied collection of defenders that can get them halfway to cutting down on Anthony’s effectiveness. For that to work, Anthony just has to take care of the other half, and on Sunday, he did.