From the Associated Press
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — The Boston Celtics bench has been a reliable contributor during the NBA finals, so far.
And it’s about to get even more important.
With starters Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo both unable to finish Game 4, and Paul Pierce also injured, the Celtics will be relying on their reserves when they try to close out the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 5 on Sunday night.
“We’re not in great physical shape, there’s no doubt about that,” coach Doc Rivers said Friday, when he gave his players a day off to celebrate their rally from a 24-point deficit to beat the Lakers 97-91 and move within one victory of the NBA title.
“I think our guys are mostly gamers,” Rivers said at the Lakers’ practice facility. “It’s amazing going through this. That’s part of it. It’s a lot of physical and mental things that you have to go through, and we’re going through it.”
Perkins left the game on Thursday night, clutching his left shoulder after slamming into Lakers forward Lamar Odom early in the third quarter. The Celtics said Perkins had a strained left shoulder, and he didn’t return to the game.
Rivers said Friday that Perkins has a 50-50 chance “at best” of playing in Game 5 on Sunday night.
“When I first saw it, I didn’t like what I saw,” Rivers said. “Obviously the injury he had last night could be significant, and we don’t know the results yet. But that’s clearly not looking great right now.”
Rondo bruised a bone in his left ankle in Game 3 and didn’t practice before the fourth game. He started Thursday, but played only 17 minutes before going to the bench for good with 7:06 left in the third quarter.
“The fact that Rajon tried to go last night, again, was phenomenal,” Rivers said.
But the fact that he finished with only five points and two assists meant that Rivers had to rely upon Eddie House, who as the third-stringer behind Rondo and Sam Cassell had played minimal minutes since Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals.
House played 25 minutes on Thursday night — his most in more than two months — and his 11 points included a pair of 3-pointers and some key baskets as the Celtics staged the biggest NBA finals comeback since the league began keeping such records in 1971.
Rivers said House was his choice because the Lakers were forced to guard him at the perimeter, meaning they couldn’t double-team Kevin Garnett down low.
“It was terrific,” Rivers said. “We would have gone with Eddie or Sam, honestly. We just needed a guard that they had to stay with so they couldn’t help.”
James Posey had 18 points in just 25 minutes off the bench, P.J. Brown had a big dunk down the stretch, and Leon Powe had three points and five rebounds in nine minutes as Celtics reserves outscored the Lakers’ backups 35-15.
In all, the Celtics’ bench has outscored the Lakers’ 108-82 in the series and held a 48-35 rebounding edge.
“A lot of these guys, when they decide to just have one single mind, sacrifice for the team and stop thinking about individual stuff, they become pretty good basketball players,” Rivers said.
Pierce, who sprained his right knee in Game 1, went to the floor late in the game while trying to keep Kobe Bryant from spoiling the Celtics’ comeback. Pierce said he “tweaked” his knee, but spokesman Jeff Twiss said the Celtics captain rolled his ankle.
“I’m feeling kind of sore,” Pierce said Thursday night. “Rajon is hurting, Perk hurt his shoulder, so I think these two days will be great for us to recuperate from our minor injuries and try to suck it up on Sunday and end this thing before things get worse.”