BOSTON — Veteran leadership? Sure. Defensive presence in the post? Definitely.
Hitting clutch shots in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals? That probably was not in P.J. Brown's job description when he signed with the Boston Celtics on Feb. 27.
Nevertheless, the 38-year-old provided plenty of offensive heroics yesterday at TD Banknorth Garden. Brown enjoyed a perfect afternoon of shooting (4 for 4 from the field, 2 for 2 at the line) and tallied 10 points and six rebounds off the bench as Boston survived, 97-92, over the Cleveland Cavaliers and punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals.
The series against the Detroit Pistons will begin tomorrow at the Garden (8:30 p.m.). Detroit wrapped up its series Tuesday.
Brown, who had been seldom used in the series (5 of the 6 games he had played 10:07 or less), played 20 minutes. He scored six of his 10 points in the fourth quarter, including a 17-foot jumper that shook the sold-out arena and put the Green up 91-88 with 1:21 left in the contest.
"When I signed, I thought I was brought here to help the team, but I thought I would contribute more defensively and with rebounding," said Brown, who has career averages of 9.1 points and 7.7 rebounds in 15 seasons. "As far as that shot goes, I wasn't brought here for that. I was definitely not brought here to shoot last-second shots. But it was a nature thing. I felt the rhythm and took the shot."
Earlier in the quarter, Brown made a play just as big. The 6-foot-11 forward came out of nowhere to rebound an airball from teammate Rajon Rondo (8 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists), then converted a reverse lay-up to make the score 89-84 with 2:35 left.
"For P.J. Brown to play those minutes and that many minutes straight, we might not see him for the next couple of days," Celtics coach Doc Rivers joked. "But he was fantastic."
Throughout the playoffs, Rivers has been criticized for his rotation of players, while his team has fought through two straight seven-game series against supposedly inferior teams. However, Rivers' hunch to use Brown down the stretch of the biggest game of the season paid off.
"I try to stay prepared," said Brown. "I don't know when my number is going to be called or when Coach is going to want me out there. I wasn't expecting to play that much, I really wasn't. Coach found the rhythm of the team and he just let it go."
The contest was begging for a player, any player, to seize the role of Robin to the Batman performances of Boston's Paul Pierce (41 points) and Cleveland's LeBron James (45 points). The two All-Stars battled all game and put their stamp on it from the opening tip. They were the only players in double-figures with five minutes left in the third quarter.
Delonte West (15 points, 5 assists) and Kevin Garnett (13 points, 13 rebounds) made bids to play Best Supporting Actor for their respective teams, but it was indeed Brown who filled the role.
"P.J. has been what we thought he would be," said Garnett. "Not only extra energy, but veteran leadership. He has been huge for us and he's what we need in certain situations. I feel like his (jumper) was one of, if not, the biggest shot of the game."
Prior to signing with the Celtics, Brown says he was "playing daddy," and just spending time with his family while continuing a strict workout regimen. During that time he was attracting interest from many of the teams still playing playoff basketball.
But he felt Boston was the perfect fit.
"I just felt like this was the place I needed to be," said Brown. "I talked to Paul (Pierce) and Ray (Allen) and they thought I could really help the bench out. That meant a lot to hear from two players on a great team."
With that said, Brown never expected to contribute like he did yesterday.
"I expected for us to win and go to the Eastern Conference finals," said Brown, who played for the Bulls last year. "Hitting clutch shots wasn't part of the deal though. I just want to be a champion. It's been a dream of mine since I came to this league."
So now that Brown has added clutch-shooting to his job description, maybe he has some contract-renegotiating leverage.
"I'm not interested in money, I'm just looking for a little bling," said Brown pointing to his ring finger.
House rocks the house
After not playing in three of the first six games of the series, Celtics guard Eddie House saw action early yesterday, and made an emotional impact.
The 3-point specialist finished the game with just four points on 1-for-5 shooting, but his all-out hustle on a loose ball in the second quarter sent the Celtics faithful into a frenzy. When the ball was knocked away from Cleveland's Wally Szczerbiak, House outsprinted him, went into a full-length dive and tapped it to James Posey, who was fouled by Szczerbiak in the act of shooting.
A few minutes later, House got into a small scuffle with West, as they tied each other up on a loose ball. Once again, the sellout crowd appreciated House's fiery energy.
"Before the year, if you looked at the stat sheet and saw that Eddie House was 1 for 5, you would have thought he really struggled," said Boston head coach Doc Rivers. "Yet he was fantastic with his energy and defense."
House gets two thumbs up for keeping himself prepared and not becoming a cancer in the locker room after late-season acquisition Sam Cassell stole much of his playing time.
The season after the season
The Celtics have now played 14 games in two playoff rounds since the regular season ended 33 days ago.
With potentially two more playoff rounds still to go, Rivers sees some good coming out playing two seven-game series in a row.
"I think we're in great shape," said Rivers. "We did a great job resting the guys most of the year, by putting games away so most of the other guys could play. We had never been together in the playoffs. Now we have gone through two Game 7s and we've won two game 5s, too. I don't think too many people realize how important those games are as well."
The New England Patriots were well-represented at yesterday's Game 7 epic. Quarterback Tom Brady, who was sporting a San Francisco Giants cap at courtside, was joined by Richard Seymour, Laurence Maroney, Randy Moss, Kevin Faulk, Ben Watson and Vince Wilfork.
Not Ray's day
The Ray Allen slump continued. Allen scored only four points in nearly 30 minutes of playing time. He missed both 3-point attempts, both wide-open attempts late in the game, and had only one assist and one turnover.
Strangely, Allen played the entire first quarter, missing two shots.
"I told Ray if we win the championship and he doesn't score another point then he should be happy," said Doc Rivers.
You wonder if he may not score another point. The 32-year-old guard, who is owed $36.2 million in the next two years, has hit just 6 of his last 37 3-pointers and 23 of his last 73 shots overall.
Another Ainge fan
A Celtics fan wearing one of the green T-shirts handed out before yesterday's game brought some tape with him to do up his own message. He wrote on it: Thank you, Danny!
Cleveland Cavaliers sub Damon Jones hit a 3-pointer in the second quarter for his first points of the series. Jones was replacing injured 3-point specialist Daniel Gibson, who separated his shoulder in Game 6.
As players were lined up for a free throw near the Celtics bench, Jones looked over at Celts sub Sam Cassell, with a prediction.
"This is my time," he said to Cassell, whom he has been joking with before each game.
Jones couldn't back up his words. He attempted one more wide open 3-pointer to open the fourth quarter with the Cavs trailing 73-69. He was long, clanging off the rim and didn't get off another shot the rest of the game.
Faces in the crowd
Central Catholic freshman Jim Zenevitch was shown dancing up a storm on the Jumbotron. Zenevitch, who attends many games (he was with his mother, Janice), is apparently a favorite among the Boston Garden cameramen each game. Of course, his favorite Garden appearance came when the promising 6-foot-4 forward played for the Raiders there this winter.
Other locals in the crowd were Carmen Scarpa of Andover, who was with his wife Jean and their three children, and future Masconomet Regional hoop star Adam Bramanti was with his dad Peter.
Sign of the times
The best signs, side by side, in the Boston Garden crowd last night read:
"Minnesota: Thanks for the Big Ticket" ... "and Big Papi."
They said it
"The Celtics were the aggressors on the boards tonight," said Cavs forward Ben Wallace, whose team was outrebounded 39-29.
"This is why they call him The Truth," said Celts forward James Posey, referring to Paul Pierce's 41 points and, of course, his nickname.
"No, I look back and hoped and prayed about how Paul (Pierce) could miss and how we could contribute to that," said Cavs coach Mike Brown when asked if he appreciated what Pierce and LeBron James did.
"It would have been a lot better if we could've won," said Cavs forward Wally Szczerbiak, when asked if the Game 7 last night was one of the best ever.