With injuries reducing Ray Allen to a shell of his former self and the combination of pain and enveloping Philadelphia 76ers defense limiting Paul Pierce to just 38 percent shooting from the floor through four games of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Boston Celtics needed another source of offense to alleviate the pressure on primary scorer Kevin Garnett and primary facilitator Rajon Rondo if they were to take a series lead over the Sixers on their home court in Game 5. On Monday night, that source was Brandon Bass, who exploded for a season-high 27 points and six rebounds in a 101-85 win that gave Boston a 3-2 edge and put Philly on the brink of elimination as they head back to Pennsylvania for Game 6 Wednesday night.
After the biggest performance of his seven-year NBA career — his 27 points matched a career high and set a new postseason high-water mark — the former LSU standout credited the attention drawn by his better-billed teammates for giving him the chance to operate. From Jimmy Golen of the Associated Press:
''We've got a few good players on the team that they had to focus on,'' said Bass, who left the game to a standing ovation with 2 minutes left and Boston leading by 18. ''That left me open, and I was able to take advantage of my opportunity.''
That was especially true during a third-quarter explosion that saw Bass hit 6 of 7 field-goal attempts and make all six of his free throws for a total of 18 points. That's the highest-scoring quarter for a single player this postseason and, as NBA.com's John Schuhmann noted, just the fifth time a player has scored at least 15 points in one frame during these playoffs, putting Bass alongside LeBron James (who scored 17 in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the New York Knicks and 16 in the fourth quarter of Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers), Tony Parker (16 in the fourth quarter of Game 3 against the Utah Jazz) and the man for whom Bass was traded this past offseason, Glen Davis (16 in the second quarter of Game 3 against the Pacers).
It was an amazing effort at an absolute must-have moment by Bass, and it was also one orchestrated pretty deftly by Rondo, the Celtics' point guard and floor general, who repeatedly put Bass in position to make his monstrous contributions.
Bass is certainly not shy about taking shots — he used just about one-fifth of Boston's possessions during the regular season, right in line with his career mark, according to Basketball-Reference.com — but the 6-foot-8 forward isn't particularly adept at creating them. Many big men need to be fed to generate offense, but that's especially true for Bass' bread-and-butter mid-range, pick-and-pop game.
More than three-quarters of Bass' field goals on the season, 77.2 percent, were assisted attempts, which was the eighth-highest share among four-five types who made 20 appearances this season and averaged at least 20 minutes per contest, according to Hoopdata. That number has only gone up in the postseason; of Bass' 44 made field goals during the Celtics' playoff run, 35 (79.5 percent) have come off a direct assist, per B-R's event finder tool and Monday night's play-by-play data. Unsurprisingly, given the complexion of Boston's offense, the lion's share of those have come from Rondo, who has served it up on 20 of Bass' 44 playoff makes (45.5 percent), including five of Bass' seven assisted field goals during his 9-of-13 performance Monday night. And a closer look actually shows Rondo's hand in even more of Bass' offense than appears on the stat sheet.
The first of Bass' two unassisted field goals came just after the three-minute mark of the first quarter. The combination of a Ray Allen curl away from the ball and a Pierce cut toward the top of the key leaves Bass one-on-one on the baseline with Philly's Lavoy Allen, who finds himself a half-step behind in recovery after moving to the middle of the floor to check Pierce on the cut. Rondo quickly recognizes and seizes the matchup, giving Bass the ball in a comfortable face-up position, which the forward utilizes to great effect, pump-faking Allen off balance and getting the rim for a layup. Because Bass drove it himself, Rondo doesn't get an assist (even with the friendly scorekeepers in Boston), but it's a bucket created by both the action of the C's offense and Rondo getting Bass the ball in a comfortable position where he could attack a recovering defender.
As KD noted in his Behind the Box Score writeup after Game 5, Bass also got well from the foul line, taking 10 attempts and making nine of them. You don't see it in the play-by-play, but Rondo generated six of those attempts — two by hitting Bass under the basket on a dump-off with 1:59 left in the second quarter (he made one of two); two by faking a cross-court pass that shifted the Philly defense before coming back to Bass for another favorable baseline one-on-one, this time against Spencer Hawes, with 10:18 left in the third (he made both); and two more at 6:38 of the third by rewarding Bass for running the floor in transition and sealing off Thaddeus Young in the post (he made both again). Heck, if he'd hit the two other uncontested midrange jumpers Rondo got him — a wide-open 16-footer with 1:31 left in the second and an even more open 12-footer in the final minute of the third — Bass could've hung 30 for the first time in his NBA career.
None of this is intended to denigrate Bass' career night — even if someone gives you open shots, it's up to you to make them, and because Bass did that repeatedly and brilliantly Monday night, Boston has a chance to close Doug Collins' club out Wednesday night and move on to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in five years.
"My motto is God, grind and greatness," Bass said after the game, according to WEEI.com's Paul Flannery. "Grindin' is what got me to this point, and that's what I'm going to continue to do."
If Philadelphia can't figure out how to stop Rondo from a pretty important fourth G — getting Bass the ball where he wants it — then Bass could keep on keepin' on and push Boston all the way to the NBA's final four.
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