Early this evening, prior to the Celtics' Game 5 showdown with the Philadelphia 76ers at the TD Garden, C's head coach Doc Rivers noted that without the injured Avery Bradley in the starting five, he needed someone else to step up and play a bigger role with the team's postseason fate hanging in the balance. He pinpointed Ray Allen, Mickael Pietrus and Keyon Dooling as three potential saviors.
Wrong, wrong and wrong. The Celtics found some unexpected help, but the source was none of the above.
Fulfilling Bradley's defensive role -- applying ball pressure to disrupt the Sixers' rhythm early in the shot clock -- was Rajon Rondo, who took his ball-hawking aggression to another level with his partner in crime missing. But offensively? When the Celtics needed someone to step up and knock down shots against a Sixers team that was clamping down on Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett?
Enter Brandon Bass.
Considering his recent offensive malaise -- a 49.3 percent shooter for his career, he had sagged to a discouraging 43.3 percent in this postseason -- Bass seemed an unlikely hero for the Celtics tonight, to say the least. But this franchise's history is littered with unlikely playoff heroes. In this current five-year Celtic run, names like Glen Davis, Nate Robinson and Leon Powe spring readily to mind. Bass, though, might have had a better game in Game 5 tonight than any of them.
After an awkward, tentative first half in which Bass looked clueless with the ball, unsure on every touch whether to pass, shoot or merely dribble out the shot clock, he then came to life in the second. He exploded for 18 points in the third quarter alone, and he finished with 27 overall, plus six rebounds, two blocks, two steals and an assist. He was the very picture of efficiency, shooting 9-of-13 from the field and 9-of-10 from the line. He left the opposing Sixers shaking their heads, quite literally.
"Too many easy baskets," quipped Philly coach Doug Collins. "Too many dunks."
And too many mid-range jumpers, and too many layups, and too many drives to the basket where he easily drew contact and then drained two free throws. It was too much of everything from Bass. Too much for the Sixers to handle -- thus the Celtics erased a 50-47 halftime deficit and buried the Sixers in the second half, waltzing to a 101-85 victory. The first half was a little rocky for Bass, but the second was out of this world. Night and day. The differences were too numerous to count.
"The ball went in," Rivers said with a laugh. "That was one.
"I just thought he kept the game simple in the second half," the coach elaborated. "He didn't try to do to much, he just let the game come to him, and he trusted his teammates. He kept throwing an extra pass to Rondo, and Rondo kept throwing it back. But again, like I always say, it's a make-miss league. He made shots, and that was great."
Bass isn't used to getting attention like this. He's never been labeled a playoff hero before -- or really any kind of hero, for that matter. He played a bit part on the Mavericks teams that made playoff cameos in 2008 and '09, and he got wiped out of the first round last year in his first postseason as an NBA starter, with the Magic. Tonight was really his first time garnering national attention, and he seemed unsure how to handle it. For the first time in his life, the quiet, modest kid from Louisiana was at the podium tonight, talking about leading his team to an NBA playoff win.
Naturally, he deflected the praise to his teammates.
"It was just me taking advantage of my opportunities," Bass said, expressing what sounded much more like genuine sentiment than NBA cliché-speak. "They had been doubling Paul, and we've got a few other good players on our team that they've got to focus on. That left me open tonight, and I was able to hit the shots.
"It's a blessing for me. It's just hard work. I've been working at this for a long time, and I'm just grateful it was able to work out for me tonight."
Did it ever. Prior to tonight, Bass' playoff career high was 19, and that came in garbage time of a Mavs blowout loss in New Orleans back in 2008. This was his first time making a truly meaningful contribution in the postseason. In other words, this was the biggest game of his life.
"To be honest with you, I didn't really think about that yet," he said. "Maybe once this settles in, I'll think about it. After we get the next win, I'll consider that maybe. But I just want to keep going, continue to help my teammates any way I can."
After tonight, you'd be a fool to doubt him.