The Coolidge Corner Clubhouse on Harvard Street is filled when I arrive Thursday night. The bar fills its walls with sports photos, and it fills its menu with dishes named after famous athletes.
But I’m not here for the food: I’m here to watch the Celtics play the Magic. I might be one of the few doing this. Most viewers seem interested in Boston College, and overall the patrons seem mostly just interested in each other.
Oilhead members Noah Weiskoff and Graham Wright join me for the game, and for the opening five minutes we mostly just try to figure out who the Celtics are starting, considering the injuries to Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen, Jermaine O’Neal, plus a couple bench guys, two associate equipment managers, plus the trainer who’s job it is to prevent all those other injuries.
OK, that’s clearly Paul Pierce. And there’s Kevin Garnett. So is that Mickael Pietrus? What’s he look like, again? The young guy must be Avery Bradley, since the C’s don’t have any other point guards. So are they playing Brandon Bass at power forward and slotting KG over to center? O.k. I think we’ve got the lineup.
While we all just try to figure out who’s on the court, Pietrus knocks down two threes in an early 8-2 run. But after that, everything goes to hell. The Magic out-score the Celtics 30-8 over the next eight minutes, extend their 16-point lead after one quarter to as high as 27 in the second quarter, and enter halftime up 58-37.
I really don’t need much analysis to explain what happens. This video says it all.
Watching this first-half debacle only feeds the pessimism that Celtics fans are feeling towards this current team (a too-old squad denied any chance to get in shape by the lockout and the abbreviated preseason) and any future ones.
“You can’t really rebuild if you have three 35-year-old players eating $20 million in salary,” Wright bemoans. Then he and Weiskoff leave, figuring the game is out of reach.
Boy, were they wrong.
Something starts to happen in the third quarter. The Celtics survive one more push from the Magic, then start to actually clamp down on defense. On the other end of the court, Pierce explodes, scoring nine points and assisting on four baskets for nine more.
The suddenly rattled Magic start the fourth up just 11 points. Holy shit. Are the Celtics actually going to come back?
Yes, yes they are. The defense forces a shot-clock violation to start the fourth, and on the other end pierce finds rookie E’Twaun Moore from downtown, cutting Orlando’s lead to 75-67. The Magic can’t do much better than Dwight Howard free throws, and he only knocks down half of them all game.
Back in the day, Shaquille O’Neal was so well known for his atrocious free-throw shooting that teams invented the “Hack a Shaq” defense, intentionally fouling O’Neal and taking their chances with his career .527 average instead of letting him dominate under the basket.
At .593, Howard is only a marginally better shooter, and he uses his brute strength the way Shaq did. Therefore, I’ve created a new defensive strategy when playing Howard: “Smite a Dwight.” Why wouldn’t this work?
Meanwhile, Pierce continues to play like he got Yankees pitcher and eating-enthusiast Bartolo Colon’s stem-cell therapy, knocking down three more shots to make it just a two-point game. The last bucket comes when Howard flagrantly goaltends, knocking the ball away long after it had begun falling towards the basket.
“Can’t do that” Stephen O’nan of Avon, Conn., shouts at the screen. “‘NBA Jam’ taught me that!”
One benefit to watching the game at CCC is they mute the TV’s. Some might like hearing Mike Gorman and ref-hater Tommy Heinsohn commentate, but I’d gladly give that up if it means I don’t have to hear Magic coach Stan Van Gundy. His voice combines the very worst qualities of Gilbert Gottfried and Bobcat Goldthwait. Take a listen:
Because the Celtics only play the Magic a few times a year, I always forget how grating Van Gundy’s voice truly is. I’m never prepared for it the next time, so it just tears the only recently formed scabs on my eardrums over and over again.
The Celtics’ defense holds the Magic to just 25 points and .276 shooting in the second half, finishing the game with six steals and 11 blocked shots – four by Garnett, who does an admirable job containing and bodying up Howard:
Garnett also ties the game 76-76 when Marquis Daniels draws Howard into a double-team, freeing Garnett for an open jump shot. After former Celtic and also eating-enthusiast Glen Davis misses two free throws, Daniels finds Moore on a brilliant cross-court pass that sets up Moore’s fourth three-pointer, giving the C’s a 79-76 lead.
All of a sudden, the Celtics’ bench looks really, really good. Moore finishes with 16 points, and Pietrus and Bass – normally two reserves – combine for 22. By contrast, no one on the Magic’s bench scores even eight.
The MVP though, is clearly Pierce. He finishes with 24 points 10 rebounds and six assists in a Herculean 44 minutes of play. Following Moore’s three and another layup, Pierce assists on two baskets and sinks a technical free throw, pushing Boston’s lead to 86-80.
Once the Celtics retake the lead, they never look back. The Celtics’ maintain their balance even as the Magic come completely apart.
The Celtics win, 91-83. They out-score the Magic 54-25 in the second half, completing the biggest comeback in 16 seasons.
“I can’t believe they came back,” O’nan mutters. “That’s ridiculous… that’s incredible… that’s ridiculous.”
The Celtics are suddenly on a bit of a winning streak. They’re still too old to win another championship with the Big 3, but newbies like Moore and Bass at least providing some energy and athleticism off the bench.
They might not win again for a few years, but they’ll definitely be entertaining until they get good again. And as spoiled as Boston fans are, any other fanbase would take that compromise, no questions asked.
Matt Goisman is going to write about a game each and every week from America’s #1 city for sports: Here. We’re calling it 52 Games, because that’s what we’re going to end up with. This week, Goisman left the city for Brookline’s Coolidge Corner Clubhouse to watch an historic game between the Celtics and the Magic. Keep up with him here.