With about a minute and a half left to play, long after the game's outcome had been decided, the Celtics came to life and exhibited the level of energy they'd been lacking all night against the Washington Wizards at the TD Garden.
They were down 95-82 with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter, watching in despair as the Wizards made seven consecutive free throws down the stretch. The starters were on the bench, the Garden faithful had lost hope and the Celtics were resigned to an eventual 105-96 loss to the Wizards, their first in seven meetings over the last two years.
But something snapped.
That something was a monstrous scoring outburst from Nate Robinson and Marquis Daniels, who combined for 16 points in the span of 55 seconds to bring the C's back from the brink of death.
It started with Daniels charging the lane and hitting a short jumper off an assist from Robinson. That opened the floodgates. Then Robinson took matters into his own hands.
The first 3 came with 1:07 to play, an open look from 26 feet out off an assist from Tony Allen.
Quickly, the Celtics fouled, got the ball back and found Robinson again. With 57 seconds left, along came 3-ball No. 2.
Then a steal, and without hesitation, another 3. With 50 seconds left, the lead was cut to six.
Robinson would later add a driving layup to keep the Celtics in it, and one possession later, Daniels connected on a deep 3. It was a huge run for the C's, one that restored their faith on a night when seemingly nothing else had gone their way. And it all stemmed from two guys who were warming the Celtics' bench earlier this week.
That's the way this Celtics rotation works. One day, you're the goat; the next, you're the hero.
"It wasn’t a surprise," Doc Rivers said of the fourth-quarter scoring spree. "I mean, it’s their job. It’s what they should do. I was more surprised that they could be that effective sitting that long and then come in and make shots. That’s always nice to see. I think Nate can just wake up and make shots. That’s who he is."
This is why the Celtics made a move at the trading deadline nearly two months ago to add Robinson; they wanted a little extra kick to their second unit, and they brought in an explosive bench guy with the ability to take over a game. He's not the world's most consistent player, but when he goes off, he's a difference-maker. That's why he's here.
"Nate is not in our rotation right now, but he’ll win a playoff game for us," Rivers said. "There will be a game where we’re flat, and we’re going to need somebody to come in and make something happen, and Nate will do that. And I told him that yesterday. I told him there will be a game that he’s going to win us. He’s going to win us a playoff game."
Robinson's run was electrifying, but for the Celtics' starters watching from the bench, it was frustrating to see all that energy go to waste. The Celtics were a day late and a buck short. It stung.
"Nate got hot at the end and made it a little bit exciting," said Kevin Garnett. "But for the most part, as starters at least, because we are the leading group, we have to come in and make a better effort and make it a sensible game in the first."
Sensible. He's not asking for much — just sensible. The Celtics came out in the first quarter like their heads just weren't in it; there were bad shots, lazy defensive stands, mental mistakes that are just inexcusable for a playoff-bound team in their 79th game of the season.
The Celtics are running out of time to correct the careless mistakes. They've got just three games left to figure all of this out.
What we saw from the Celtics' bench guys in the final seconds was fun, exhilarating, even a bit inspiring. But it wasn't enough. If only they'd brought the same energy to the first 46 minutes as they did to the final two.
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