In the quest to put another wildly entertaining and wholly unpredictable game in the Eastern Conference semifinals in perspective, perhaps this item culled from the official Game 3 play-by-play report does the trick:
With a little more than four minutes remaining in the third quarter of the Celtics’ eventual 101-91 victory, Marquis Daniels had nine points. Dwyane Wade, the fiercer of the Heat’s two superstars? He had eight.
Yes, we’re talking that Marquis Daniels, the rotation-player-turned-afterthought, the nine-year veteran who averaged just 3.2 points on 34.6 percent shooting during his 38 appearances in the regular season. That Marquis Daniels, the one who played just three minutes or more in a game twice this postseason, who saw the floor for a total of 1 minute 59 seconds in the first two games of this series, who scored just 12 total points the entire postseason, who hasn’t been quite the same since he suffered a career-threatening bruised spinal cord during a game in February 2011.
Marquis Daniels, the one and the same. Yet there he was, in the middle of absolutely everything during the most crucial stretches of one of the Celtics’ most crucial games of the season last night. The stat sheet formally documents his contributions, and 9 points (on 4-of-6 shooting), 5 rebounds, an assist and a steal in 17:19 of playing time is an admirable line.
But the numbers don’t come close to revealing the full magnitude of his performance. During a stretch bridging the final 2:35 of the first quarter to the 7:20 mark of the second, the Celtics outscored the Heat, 15-0, turning a 28-22 deficit into a 37-28 lead. Daniels was essential in building the momentum and extending it in to the minutes after the run ended. He forced a backcourt violation on LeBron James with 3.9 second left in the first quarter. He gave the Celtics a 39-30 lead at the 7:04 mark with a soft put-back plus a foul. Twenty-five seconds after that, he tied up James on his trademark
travel/ double-dribble combo crab-dribble, forcing a traveling violation.
All in all, it was a vintage Daniels performance, and you know, there really is such a thing. Maybe performances like this have been scarce this year, but the all-around contributions, selfless play, and creative moves near the hoop reminded you of his best days as a valued contributor for three season in Dallas and another three with the Pacers. Daniels was the leader of a strong and necessary bench contribution last night, which also included an energetic 7-point, 4-rebound performance from Keyon Dooling.
“I thought what the second unit did was that they came with a defensive energy that changed the game,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “”And they scored off the defense. They got stops, they ran the floor, Marquis cut and got to the basket. Marquis made great passes, and then we posted him up a couple of times as well. But I thought it was more from that. And that’s who they are. Listen, they’re not going to put up great numbers offensively. But they know exactly who they are. They accept that, and they are comfortable with that.”
Daniels may be OK with his role, but he makes sure to prepare for a bigger one. He’s respected among his coaches and teammates for putting in his work even when more than a spare minute or two of playing time is not assured.
“You’ve just got to stay ready,” Daniels said. “I say that every day, getting my work in at the shootaround because you never know when your number is going to be called.
Whatever coach asks me to do, rebound, defend, or just bring energy.”
Daniels smiled when he was asked whether Rivers told him to expect a bigger role tonight.
“It’s kind of funny, he told me to be ready before the first two games,” Daniels said. “He didn’t say that tonight.”
While Daniels’s contributions were valuable, the continued brilliance of the player who was serenaded with “M-V-P, M-V-P!” chants by the Garden crowd throughout Game 3 must be acknowledged. For as maddening and enigmatic as Rajon Rondo can be, if you don’t enjoy and appreciate what he’s doing right now, you’re probably not someone whose opinion is going to register with anyone paying attention.
Rondo did not match his breathtaking 44-point, 10-assist performance of Game 2, but he was beyond brilliant once again. He guided and cajoled the offense as only a premier point guard can, controlling the tempo while making sure to emphasize Kevin Garnett (24 points). Rondo finished with 21 points (9 of 16 shooting), 10 assists, 6 rebounds, and he probably scored the game’s biggest basket, a driving layup with 1:39 left that gave the Celtics a 99-89 advantage after the Heat whittled away a 24-point deficit.
It was another gem of a performance, albeit one with more nuance than his 44-point tour de force. Afterward, he was asked about his approach to Game 3. Was it on his mind to try to be such a scoring threat again?
“My goal was to win, by any means necessary,” he said. “I just wanted to sacrifice, to do things for my teammates, to get the lead, keep the lead, and run the show. My job is to be the leader out there, an extension of Doc, and I just wanted to call a great game, keep my focus, and keep guys happy.”
His coach said he didn’t find it necessary to offer Rondo pregame advice.
“No, I’m like a pitcher throwing a no-hitter, you stay away from that joker,” said Rivers, and you suspected he was somehow aware that the Mets’ Johan Santana had completed a no-hitter earlier in the evening. “The guy scored 44 points. What can I possibly tell him? I didn’t tell him a word. I told him to keep running the team. Keep running the team. The only thing we told him offensively was we had to get Kevin involved. Other than that, just go play.”
Rondo did just that, playing well and with great confidence and pride, just like KG and Paul Pierce (23 points) and Ray Allen (10 on 4 of 8 shooting), and yes, even ol’ Marquis Daniels. And suddenly, a series that felt like a lost cause after the heartbreaking Game 2 loss has become truly intriguing, marked by unexpected twists and the genius of a point guard who right now is making anything seem possible.