boston.com Sports your connection to The Boston Globe
CELTICS 93, GRIZZLIES 91

James puts an end to it

His jumper beats Grizzlies

MEMPHIS -- The stage was set for the first real drama of the season. With the game tied and 10.4 seconds remaining, the Celtics had one final chance to win their first road game in regulation.

Paul Pierce sat on the bench with six fouls. Eric Williams wore street clothes after hyperextending his right knee. The young, up-and-coming Grizzlies wanted a victory in their opener. The crowd of 16,178 at The Pyramid stood in anticipation as Boston called time out to devise a plan.

Jim O'Brien put the game in the hands of Mike James, the free agent point guard who signed for the two-year veteran minimum during the offseason and who played last night despite a sprained right ankle. O'Brien told James to go one-on-one with his man (Jason Williams) and directed everyone else to the baseline in case James's shot missed. James threw Williams off-balance and got the shot he wanted, a 16-footer slightly off to the left of the foul line. Once the ball fell through with 1.8 seconds left, James shouted, "Have faith in me," and the Celtics celebrated a 93-91 win.

"I'm just glad we didn't have to go into overtime," said James. "We definitely know who the ball would have went to if Paul was in the game. Coach called my number and I had to step up, and I did."

Pierce rushed over to James and picked him up like a child. In a close game in which Pierce could not take the final shot, he found another way to carry the load. Then again, there were plenty of players willing and able to help Pierce as Boston came back from an 11-point first-half deficit and survived a close finish. No one came up bigger than Vin Baker, who led the team with 24 points (13 in the third quarter) and eight rebounds (tied with Pierce).

"We really showed a lot of character down the stretch in winning this game," said Baker. "We knew this was going to be a tough game with this being their home opener.

"When Paul's not on, or unfortunately out of the game, we've got to have guys ready to step up. We've got some players capable of making shots."

The win showed the Celtics' character in a lot of situations. First, there was the comeback. The intense defensive pressure applied by the Grizzlies disrupted what the Celtics wanted to accomplish with their new up-tempo game. The Green committed 11 of their 20 turnovers in the first half, including one on an eight-second violation. Boston struggled to find its rhythm, entering the break behind, 47-44. But the Celtics adjusted and by the fourth quarter, they were ready to gain some distance on the Grizzlies.

Then there was what appeared to be a decisive run to start the fourth. The 12-2 spurt started with an 8-foot turnaround from Baker to put the Celtics ahead, 82-73, with 7:17 remaining. The run included a 3-pointer from James, a pair of midrange jumpers from Pierce, and free throws. Boston would build its advantage to 10 (90-80) on a pair of Pierce free throws with 4:01 to go.

The collapse followed. In the closing minutes, the Grizzlies showed their resiliency, piecing together an 11-1 run behind dunks from Stromile Swift (18 points, 9 rebounds). The spurt ended with Pierce fouling Pau Gasol (16 points, 10 rebounds) for his sixth personal. Gasol sank both free throws to tie the game at 91. Then, it was showtime for James. Whatever lapse in poise the Celtics may have suffered, they reversed it. Although the Boston offense may have performed well in spurts before coming up big in the end, the defense remained consistent, holding Memphis to 37 percent shooting. "I'm starting to see a lot of resemblance to the team we had two years ago when we went to the Eastern Conference finals," said Pierce. "We fight and we fight. We know we've got the defense there and everybody's confident in that. We're just getting the job done. I see a lot of the demeanor and same attitude that we had from two years ago."

SEARCH GLOBE ARCHIVES
 
Globe Archives Today (free)
Yesterday (free)
Past 30 days
Last 12 months