Come Thursday afternoon, Brandon Bass could be headed for a new locale. If this indeed ends up being his last game in a Boston Celtics uniform, the veteran power forward went out with a bang.
Bass put up 18 points, tying Rajon Rondo for the team high, and nabbed eight rebounds on Wednesday in the Celtics’ 100-94 defeat to the Phoenix Suns. One of the longest-tenured Celtics with just two-plus seasons with the team, Bass supplied his usual workmanlike effort to position Boston to potentially steal a game on the road.
Bass and the Celtics (19-36) were unable to close the deal against the Suns (32-21) after P.J. Tucker committed three awful fouls in the final 1:09, helping Boston cut a seven-point deficit to three. A sloppy possession that began with 23 seconds left ended with Bass standing wide open in the corner while Rondo and Jared Sullinger missed layup attempts, as the latter went down with some sort of right leg injury.
When he came over in a preseason trade in 2011, Bass was viewed as a role-playing cog in one last-ditch attempt at a championship for Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Since then, he has grown into a de facto team leader, a shockingly good help defender and a decent pick-and-roll stopper thanks to his defensive versatility. His mid-range jumper is still one of the shots Rondo most trusts among his teammates, as evidenced by the opening of the second half, when Rondo kept feeding Bass for 15-footers and Bass kept knocking them down.
He isn’t a player you can build a title contender around, but Bass is a player most coaches would enjoy having on their teams. For 2 1/2 seasons, Doc Rivers and Brad Stevens had the pleasure. Soon, it could be some other coach’s turn.
Few teams play as fast as the Suns, and that tempo gave the Celtics trouble. Phoenix plays at the sixth-fastest pace in the NBA at 98.12 possessions per 48 minutes, and they forced Boston to play at their speed. When the Celtics hit shots and the Suns turned the ball over, the Celtics fared OK. When Goran Dragic, Ish Smith and Leandro Barbosa were able to speed things up while protecting the ball, the Celtics were left choking on Phoenix’s dust.
“You can’t make errors against them because they are coming,” Stevens said. “They are coming fast and hard. For all of us from the Northeast that travel down here, I think we can all agree that that team pushes it harder or as hard as any team we’ve seen all year. It’s even more so than it looked on film.”
Maybe this is the year people finally accept the fact that Goran Dragic is pretty dang good. He was a sparkplug for Phoenix and Houston for four years before finally getting a team of his own last season, averaging 14.7 points and 7.4 assists per game for the Suns. The team rewarded him by trading for young point guard Eric Bledsoe, moving Dragic to off-guard.
When Bledsoe suffered a knee injury that has sidelined him since Dec. 30, Dragic got his point guard spot back and he has run with it. He is putting up 20.3 points per game and shooting better than 50 percent from the floor. At this rate, the Suns might be comfortable watching Bledsoe leave as a free agent at the end of the season and handing the reins to Dragic full time.
It’s about time somebody shows they believe in him.