BOSTON (CBS) – It certainly wasn’t pretty, and Celtics head coach Doc Rivers put it best Wednesday night after the Celtics beat the Bulls 71-69.
“A college game broke out in the middle of a pro game,” Rivers joked after watching his team score just 19 points in the second and third quarter combined.
Then again, there might be some college programs that take offense to that statement.
Celtics-Bulls games have been fairly ugly the last few seasons, with Rivers and his former assistant, Tom Thibodeau, matching defensive wits on the court along with their grind-em-out players. The games tend to always be defensive battles, with the score hovering in the 80’s or lower.
But on Wednesday night, it was just downright silly at points.
“There was one point when both teams missed layup after layup after layup right in a row. You look up at the scoreboard and say ‘it’s one of those days, one of those games,’” said Paul Pierce, who scored 14 points on just 2-for-12 shooting. “We knew this would be a tough, grind-out game. Somehow, someway, we found a way to win.”
“I told them it was going to be an ugly game,” said Rivers. “You could tell it was going to be a nasty game, and we just had to find a way to win. I kept saying ‘we’re going to win the game; I don’t know how but we’re going to figure it out during the game.'”
Pierce was a big part of that, hitting a three pointer with three minutes left to put Boston up by five. But even that three took its sweet time to bounce around the rim before finally dropping through the cylinder and tickling the nylon on its way down. It was the perfect example of how the evening had played out — no basket was easy for either side.
Boston saw more bricks on Causeway Street Wednesday night than when they tore down the original Garden in 1998. 95 of the 150 shots thrown up wanted nothing to do with the basket, and the two teams scored had just a combined 81 points by halftime. It was even worse in the third quarter, when Boston and Chicago combined for just 21 points. The Celtics shot 4-for-21 that quarter, scoring just eight points — a season low.
Still, the Celtics trailed by just one point entering the game’s final 12 minutes.
“That third quarter was funny; we couldn’t score, missed shots. Part of it was self-inflicted with our over-dribbling,” explained Rivers. “But when the quarter ended, it was a one point game – we just had to figure out and win it.”
After missing 43 of their 60 shots to start the game, the Celtics caught fire in the fourth. They shot 11-for-16 in the final frame, and in the end barely out-shot the Bulls, hitting just 36.8-percent of their shots compared to Chicago’s 36-5-percent. Kevin Garnett scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth, and finished the evening 6-for-12 from the floor — the only starter on either side to shoot 50-percent.
Now the Celtics (minus Kevin Garnett) get a few days off for the All-Star break, winners of eight of their last nine. The break couldn’t have come at a better time for the C’s, who have turned it on despite suffering three different season-ending injuries in the last month. (Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa).
“The last game before the All-Star break is a strange game,” Rivers said. “You’ve got half the guys who are tired, you’ve got a group of guys who are already in the Dominican Republic. And then you have banged-up guys. So you have a lot of things going on in that game, and you could see it.”
While Wednesday night was definitely not a work of art, Rivers and his Celtics will take it. It was just another example of the heart and passion the team has been playing with the last three weeks — and Rivers loves it.
“You have to love this team, you really do,” he said. “We keep talking about how we choose to live; We’re not going to just roll over. That’s very important for our guys to understand.”