The Celtics' bench is rather meager these days, largely due to two of its prized possessions - Glen Davis and Nate Robinson - currently serving as starters while the likes of Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo nurse their own injuries. Add in that Delonte West, Semih Erden, and Kendrick Perkins are also on the shelf, and the C's are really left with two rookies in Avery Bradley and Luke Harangody, a center coming back from a month-long absence in Jermaine O'Neal, Marquis Daniels, and Von Wafer. But perhaps surprisingly, with Ray Allen serving as something of an anchor at times, it was that very group that brought the Celtics back in the fourth quarter yesterday and presented them with an opportunity to win in the final minutes.
Daniels was perhaps the primary orchestrator of Boston's pivotal run at the start of the final frame, as he helped to get things rolling by feeding Jermaine O'Neal on a drive for an easy two-handed dunk, before hitting a tough layup on the right side off of a drive of his own, bringing the score, which was 66-57 to start, to 66-61. After Nate Robinson stole the ball on the other end at the top of the key and streaked in for a layup, Daniels knocked down a tough leaning jumper in the paint, making it 66-65, New Orleans. Just like that, the Celtics were back in business, and Daniels had a hand in six of his club's first eight points.
Earlier in the week, Jay King noted that, at times, Daniels is capable of taking over a game, and he was in such a zone yesterday evening. It was just the latest in a string of noteworthy performances from Daniels this week, initiated by his 12-point outburst (a fair description when talking about Daniels) against his former club, the Indiana Pacers, on Tuesday. Jay also alluded to my biggest gripe with Daniels in his article: His tendency to disappear at times. My only real complaint about Daniels ever since he joined the Celtics has been his consistency - or lack thereof, the majority of the time. But he's in the midst of one of his finest weeks as a Celtic, and the club is benefiting immensely from his improved (and consistent) play.
Daniels wasn't flying solo as he attempted to bring Boston back, however. Shortly after his respective offensive burst, Ray Allen contributed eight straight points - a jump shot off of a Luke Harangody miss, followed by back-to-back three-pointers, which capped off a 16-0 Celtics run to start the quarter, and gave them a 73-66 lead - a lead the starters would ultimately squander.
But it wasn't because of the effort of the stripped-down bench. Von Wafer and Harangody both came up with offensive rebounds and putbacks off of their own misses in the first half. Wafer also played more crafty defense in the first half - a trend we're seeing more and more lately. Harangody came up with three key defensive rebounds during that fourth quarter run, and even though he made only one of his five field goal attempts, all of the shots he took were good shots. Doc Rivers praised Harangody for how hard he played after the game, saying he was "phenomenal." He also credited the play of Wafer, Jermaine O'Neal, and Daniels, stating that they all were "fantastic."
"Our bench almost won the game for us," River said. "When I put the starters back in both times is when (the Hornets) closed the gap again."