You know it was another special night at the Garden when:
1) There was a Jesus Shuttlesworth sighting for the first time in these playoffs, 2) Kevin Garnett torched the Pistons for 33 points and wasn’t even the second biggest story of the evening, and 3) the Celtics moved into territory unfamiliar to every Green team since 1987.
In decoded language, the previous paragraph reads like this: Ray Allen (finally!) became Ray Allen again, Kendrick Perkins went all Bill Russell on us for three quarters, and the Celtics positioned themselves within a win of the NBA Finals for the first time in 21 years.
Yes, the Celtics’ 106-102 triumph in Game 5 of the 2008 Eastern Conference finals indeed doubled as a throwback evening in the North Station area of Boston.
Ray Allen emphatically returned with 29 huge points — including 5-for-6 on threes and a cold-blooded dagger with just over a minute left when Detroit had cut a 15-point fourth quarter deficit to one.
The Celtics were on their heels after a Rodney Stuckey trey made it a 100-99 game—the closest it had been since (who else?) Allen had put the Celtics ahead for good, 44-42, way back in the second quarter.
On a sideline out of bounds play with precious few seconds on the shot clock, Allen took a pass from James Posey and from deep in the left corner buried the longest-possible two point shot (he had a foot on the line). He would add a couple of clutch free throws to basically ice the game.
Then there was Perkins: 18 points (8-for-11 shooting), 16 rebounds, two blocks and two steals. The line actually doesn’t do the effort justice because Perkins, like many of his teammates, pulled a disappearing act in the fourth quarter. That doesn’t change the impact he had on the game throughout the first three quarters, though.
Perk was unstoppable on both the defensive and offensive glass all night, and when he felt an opportunity to take advantage of a one-on-one, he made decisive moves to the basket, scoring almost at will.
In one sequence at the beginning of the third quarter Kevin Garnett missed a long jumper; Perkins positioned himself and hauled in the offensive board, felt single coverage from Antonio McDyess and calmly backed him down before sinking a turnaround shot.
A few minutes later he swatted Jason Maxiell’s layup attempt, which led to a shot clock violation for the Pistons. He sported a KG-like scowl running back up the floor as the arena wildly applauded.
Garnett himself was not to be forgotten either. He maintained his standing as best player in the series, dropping that 33 on 11-for-17 shooting, including 10-for-12 from the line and a banked trey at the shot clock buzzer a little before halftime.
However, KG’s performance–like his team’s win–wasn’t perfect. He continued to be determinedly unselfish; on a few occasions he forced an extra pass into the painted area when he could’ve pulled up for his trademark midrange jumper.
The Celtics had chances to put the game away late but couldn’t adequately defend the three point line as the Pistons drained four from downtown in the final session.
Of course, there’s the venerable but nettling Rajon Rondo.
The young point guard made up for his peculiar nonchalant way of handling the ball (between ill-fated behind the back passes and way too slow high arcing lobs into the paint, Rondo just may send poor Bob Cousy into an early grave) by dishing out 13 assists and recording four steals.
Some may say this isn’t the time for splitting hairs, considering the Boston Celtics sit on the cusp of the franchise’s first Finals appearance since Bird lost to Magic in ‘87.
But just like those Lakers that beat the Green two decades prior, the ‘08 Lakers are a formidable machine run by an all-time great trying to match his predecessor’s four rings. These Celtics are going to have to find yet another gear if they intend to reach their ultimate goal.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. They still have to get one more from the Pistons.
It’s starting to feel like deja vu, basketball’s version of the movie “Groundhog Day”, because the situation is once again the same: The C’s road-tripping to try and vanquish an opponent in a Game 6, with the safety net of a final decisive game in Beantown on a Sunday.
The way they showed up in Detroit for Game 3, you gotta feel good about their chances to break the mold and advance after Game 6.
And with the way they’ve played in the Garden (5-0 in Game 5s and 7s, 10-1 overall), you gotta love their chances of pulling into the title round of the NBA playoffs, even if it takes every last possible game to do so.
No matter what, something special has been happening on that parquet these last six weeks, and Game 5 against Detroit was another example.
Be it legends on the sidelines, banners hanging in the rafters or mysterious bounces of free throws (from Paul Pierce’s clanker that somehow found nylon to clinch Game 7 against Cleveland, to KG’s that finished off the Pistons in Game 5, it’s time to officially stamp the phenomenon “the Red roll”) going the way of the Celtics, there’s an aura that isn’t just a season or a few careers in the making.
It’s generations upon generations. And it’s powerful.
See you for Game 7 or Game 1.