Two years ago, the Celtics won a championship with a business model predicated on the idea that three superstars surrounded by a complementary group of role players was more than enough to win a title.
It’s a tried and true method in the NBA, one that’s stood the test of time. Get your Big Three, build around them, and the rest takes care of itself.
On Sunday night, the Celtics ran into a matchup that threatened their whole belief system. They were dominated for 42 minutes by a Washington Wizards team that had scrapped their whole foundation this season and started over from scratch. There was no Gilbert Arenas, no Caron Butler, no Antawn Jamison, yet this group of castoffs and misfits walked into the Garden and pushed the C’s around as if to say, “Who needs a Big Three?”
Down the stretch, the Wizards got their answer.
It was a well-coached and experienced Celtics team that overcame the Wizards in the fourth quarter. Facing a 79-66 deficit with six minutes to play, the C’s would eventually get the win with solid execution and clutch shooting down the stretch. The Wizards were a scrappy group of youngsters, but the Celtics were the better team, and it was their veteran leaders who proved it.
“You had a veteran team that knows how to close out games against a young team that hasn’t been there, and instead of just letting a sleeping dog lie, we juiced up their energy,” Wizards coach Flip Saunders said. “We had plays coming out of timeouts where we had guys going to the wrong side of the floor, we were so discombobulated.
“Boston came at them, and our guys came back, and they didn’t have an answer,” he added. “They panicked.”
The Celtics won on Sunday night, in an 86-83 decision settled in the final minute, thanks to 10-of-15 shooting from Ray Allen. Thanks to a couple of huge clutch jumpers in the fourth quarter from Paul Pierce. Thanks to a heroic defensive performance from Kevin Garnett.
That’s why you need a Big Three.
“I was happy with the way we dug in there,” Pierce said, “because in a lot of these games this year, we let go. When we saw we’ve been down 10 with three minutes or four minutes left to go, we haven’t been able to pull these games out. Tonight, we saw something that I like to see at this point in the season, coming down the stretch. We saw the Celtics that we’re used to seeing.”
Over the course of a long season, you know that not every game will be pretty. You’re going to have bad shooting nights — as KG did, going 0-for-7 from the floor. You’re going to have nights where the bench doesn’t chip in. You’re going to have nights where the execution is a little off, the defense is a little lazy, and things just aren’t quite right. The season is an 82-game grind, and these bad nights happen.
“We’ll take it,” Doc Rivers said. “You know, it was good to win a game like this, as far as I was concerned. We’ve lost so many of these, where we’ve played poorly and lost. It’s nice every once in a while to play poorly and win. It’s a good win for us.”
To the Celtics, this was just a tough win on an off night but the Wizards saw otherwise, as Saunders referred to Boston as a “veteran team.”
Andray Blatche called the C’s a “great team.”
Mike Miller called them a “championship team.”
All of the above are true and that’s the kind of praise you earn when you’ve got veteran leaders who know how to win basketball games.
The going got tough on Sunday night, and the Celtics got going. Down double digits in the fourth quarter, most teams would have folded up shop, but these C’s stayed composed. That composure perfectly displayed the difference between the good teams and the great ones.