First, it appeared as though LeBron James was ready to carry his Cavs past the Celtics to the promised land. Then, it looked like LeBron was hobbled by injuries and slowing down. Just when it seemed like he was good to go, Rajon Rondo was even better and the C's were going to ride their youth movement to the Eastern Conference finals.
Now, the Celtics are back to relying on their veterans.
"Well, yeah," coach Doc Rivers said. "They're pretty good. We're not going to stop doing that."
The Celtics won Game 5 in Cleveland on Tuesday night, 120-88, behind a combined 64 points from their Big Three of Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The grizzled veterans in green have given the Celtics a 3-2 series lead over the reeling Cavs, bringing yet another turning point to this roller-coaster East Semifinal series.
The story of the night was Pierce — after four frustratingly bad games offensively to start this series, he came out with newfound aggression in Game 5 and dropped 21 points, anchoring the team on the offensive end. It was a breath of fresh air for a Celtics team that had watched its captain struggle for a week and a half. Now, he's back.
"You could feel Paul start the game," Rivers said. "You could feel his intensity. He got his rhythm back — you could feel it. And that was great not only for him, but I think it was great for our other guys to see. In a Game 5 situation when it's 2-2, and your top scorer, you can feel that he's here, I think that lifted everybody."
It also deflated the opposing Cavaliers. Just ask the man guarding him.
"Paul came out aggressive," James said. "He did a good job of just trying to attack and just trying to get a good feel for the game. He didn't shoot the ball particularly well from the field, but he was aggressive, and he was able to get 11 rebounds also, while doing that. He's a good enough player where you feel like you just can't stop him, you hope to contain him. But he was able to get it going."
Throughout this series, the Celtics stressed that even when Pierce's shooting numbers weren't there, he was having an impact with his leadership and his defense on James. But in Game 5, it all came together for the captain. Offense, defense, everything.
"He was very active tonight," Garnett said of Pierce. "Paul was aggressive, on both ends. I thought he was very talkative. It was so loud in here, but one of the voices you did hear all night was his. I thought the fact that he helped us on the boards, and getting loose balls, getting his hands on balls, being aggressive, putting the onus on the defense — we're going to need that from him. That was the difference."
Pierce had a near triple-double — 21 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds. Allen caught fire from outside (6-of-9) and was the game's leading scorer with 25 points. Garnett established himself early as a low-post presence and he didn't let up. The Big Ticket was big to the tune of 8-of-14 for 18 points.
"I think the Big Three had it going," James said. "Ray had it going all night, especially from outside the arc, and KG just had it going in the paint. That's what Hall of Famers do."
Ultimately, Hall of Famers win playoff series. These Celtics, wrinkles and all, are one game away from winning a big one.
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