On the final stop of a four-city tour that had taken them through Oklahoma City, Dallas and Miami before finally arriving in Memphis, the Celtics went to overtime yet again. And yet again the Celtics, matched up with a young Grizzlies team at the FedEx Forum, persevered and came away with a 53-minute win.
Last week, the Celtics overcame Milwaukee and Chicago each in extra sessions. This time, the Grizzlies were no match for the battle-tested C's, who came out firing and scored the first seven points in OT. It was over before it started — the C's waltzed to a 116-110 win that was never in doubt for the final four minutes.
After three overtime wins from the Celtics this early in the season, it might be time to derive some sort of moral from all this — perhaps that experience means everything close and late in the NBA. Playing games like these just might be something that plays to the Celtics' strengths.
"It does," coach Doc Rivers said after Saturday's win. "But it also plays to our weakness, too — our oldness. The longer these games go, I don't know if it's good for us."
When the going got tough for the Celtics, Rivers was able to trot out a lineup of four future Hall of Famers and a superstar point guard. Memphis' Lionel Hollins countered with a unit whose most grizzled veteran was the 29-year-old quasi-knucklehead Zach Randolph. The four guys around him were raw young kids without a clue. With a minute left in overtime, Hollins turned to a rookie named Xavier Henry with a grand total of 111 career minutes to his name.
Old age might be debilitating, but it can also be a blessing. The Celtics proved that.
The C's came out composed and knew exactly what to do in the extra period. They didn't rush anything. There was no sense in going for the knockout punch with five minutes to play — they simply moved the ball unselfishly, worked to get open looks, and trusted their shots. In the blink of an eye, they were up 106-99 with three minutes left.
Then they worked hard to get stops, made their free throws down the stretch, and walked away with a hard-fought win. The C's made it look surprisingly easy, considering the Grizzlies had spent the previous 48 minutes scratching and clawing their way back. For the final five, it was all Boston.
Rivers was his usual self after the victory — happy as always to win, but ever a perfectionist about his team's execution.
"We didn't close out the game again," he said. "The thing was we had great shots offensively, but I was just upset we let them score twice, back-to-back times. I thought we were good offensively. But we'll take the trip. It's been a good trip."
Winning in overtime is nothing new for Doc. The Celtics coach is now 23-10 in OT games in his six-plus seasons manning the sidelines in Boston, including a 13-4 mark since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen arrived in 2007.
There might have been questions about the Celtics last season, with respect to their resolve late in close games. But this year the C's are squelching all doubt early, taking care of business in the nailbiters.
"It's been grueling," Rivers said. "But mentally, it's been good for us. We're winning these games, and down the road, it will help us somewhere. I don't know where."
"But you know," he added, "the great thing is we get rest after this."
After the stretch they've been through, the Celtics need it.