BOSTON — Rajon Rondo may have been the talk of the town last night, but a far less likely name was drawing nearly as much praise around the TD Garden.
"Tony Allen may have been the biggest reason we won after Rondo," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "TA did a great job out there on LeBron (James)."
But it wasn't just Allen.
With the Celtics in need of a boost, and many of their top players battling foul trouble, the trio of Allen, Glen "Big Baby" Davis and — that's right — Rasheed Wallace came off the bench to provide the spark in Boston's 97-87 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
"We needed to help the team in any way we could," said Davis, who displayed his enthusiasm before the game with an ear-piercing scream in the locker room. "Just be energy guys and make the plays at the right time. That's what we do."
It was considered a given before the series that Cleveland held a major advantage off the bench, with 6-foot-10 agitator Anderson Varejao, former Celtics marksman Delonte West and energy guy J.J. Hickson as the go-to reserves.
But the Celtics bench simply ran the Cavs off the floor last night. Boston's reserves tallied 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting with 13 rebounds and four blocks. Cleveland's reserves were held to 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting with seven rebounds and one block.
"Tony Allen impacted this game in a big way," said Cleveland coach Mike Brown. "I don't think he hit a jump shot the whole game. But he beat us backdoor for layups, he beat us in transition and he beat us for hustle points."
Many wondered if Allen would even be on the Celtics roster heading into the season, but the fifth-year swingman made it worth keeping him again last night.
In 22:39, Allen tallied 15 points on 6-of-7 shooting, grabbed two steals and blocked two shots. He also was on the receiving end of maybe the play of the postseason, when Rondo drove to the basket and, seeing a streaking James hustling for the block, dished a tricky behind-the-back pass to Allen for a slam dunk.
The next trip down court, TA soared for a reverse layup.
But it was on defense where Allen once again shined. With Paul Pierce and Ray Allen struggling with foul trouble, and not having much luck keeping up with James, the call was placed to TA.
Allen spent much of his time on the court sticking to The King like glue, fighting through screen after screen to make James work for his shots and contesting him whether he had the ball or not.
He may not have the look of a gymnast, but once a game Big Baby Davis seems to show feet like a dancer.
Last night, it was when he caught a long Rondo football pass in traffic, dodged a defender and sunk an off-balance layup.
Davis continued to show he is one of the top "energy players" in the league off the bench. He tallied five points and three rebounds, but his biggest mark once again was his ability to up the pace of play, run the court and use his body to slow up the likes of Shaquille O'Neal.
Recording three fouls after the first quarter doesn't tend to be the start of a big game. But Wallace never was a predictable player.
"Rasheed was amazing tonight," said Rivers. "Energy and rebounding, and he did so many of the little things that stats can't show."
True to Rivers' point, Wallace scored only three points and grabbed just three rebounds. But the 15th-year big man finally did deliver the clutch play that he was signed for. His play took on an added importance when Kendrick Perkins was forced to the bench with fouls.
"The bench has always been a key for us in wins," said Kevin Garnett. "They had a phenomenal run in the second and third quarter. I told Rasheed we were going to need him. Even if he's not scoring, just his energy is valuable. I think TA is playing at a high level and so is Glen."
Trouble in paradise
While reflecting on yesterday's game, James took a not-so-subtle shot at his coach, Mike Brown, regarding the use of O'Neal, who played just 49 seconds in the fourth quarter.
"Shaq played extremely well and I was kind of surprised not to see him back on the floor the whole fourth quarter," said James. "That (Shaq leaving the game) was definitely a turning point. They were able to make a few stops, and Big Baby was able to get a few layups.
This is not the first time James has expressed frustration with Brown. In December he questioned Brown's use of center Zydrunas Ilgauskas.
James went on to express a desire to guard Rondo.
Signs of life?
It was another tough day for Pierce, but he may have discovered his slump-buster with 2:21 left to play.
"I saw Rondo create," said Pierce. "My man turned his back, and I went baseline."
Just 32 seconds after returning to the game following an extended stay on the bench due to fouls, Pierce took a pass from Rondo and slammed down a two-handed dunk in traffic that sent the fans into hysterics.
He added two free throws one minute later and finished the game with nine points. While he continued to struggle from the floor in the series — shooting a combined 16 for 50 for the four games — Pierce denied being frustrated.
"At the end of the day, it's not about Paul Pierce," he said. "I know there's going to be a game they need me to score big. But that wasn't tonight. Not everyone can score 25 points, and I was getting it to the guys that were getting it done."
Playing it cool
After a disastrous performance like the one Ray Allen delivered Friday (2 for 9, 7 points), many players would be shooting 100 or so extra shots in warmups and/or playing the ultra-intensity card before the next game.
But not Allen, who an hour before the game was busy holding court with the media, joking about their Mother's Day gifts and recalling the WWE wrestling match he attended with former C's point guard Sam Cassell and their families.
Every bit the poised veteran, Allen's calmness paid off at game time. While not dead on, he still knocked down eight shots on his way to 18 points.
And, after the game, he could be seen with both arms full of roses for his wife and mother.
"Ray was on tonight," said Pierce.