BOSTON — At least once per game the Boston Celtics produce a hustle sequence that essentially defines what has made this team so successful. You never quite know when it’s going to come, but it’s a staple of their victories this season, particularly the nail-biters.
During Friday’s 105-104 triumph over the New York Knicks, it came in crunch time and set into motion a final sequence in which Avery Bradley produced the go-ahead bucket, and Jae Crowder and Marcus Smart combined to harass Carmelo Anthony into a 27-foot miss that ensured Boston’s 13th straight home win.
With the Knicks clinging to a three-point lead with 1:40 to play, Langston Galloway tried to lob a pass to Robin Lopez in the post, but the Celtics’ Evan Turner managed to tip the feed. The ball seemed destined for the front row, but Turner — showing the same relentless pursuit as in a recent win in Denver — somehow fetched the ball, which had just about disappeared from the view of the sideline camera on the Knicks’ TV feed, and was practically on top of the front-row cameramen as he shoveled it backward to teammate Jared Sullinger.
At the instant Turner saved the ball, Crowder started sprinting from the Knicks’ free throw line. Sullinger collected the ball and immediately looked up court, knowing Crowder would be racing ahead of Anthony, who had let him leak out in transition throughout the night. And with a powerful two-handed toss, Sullinger delivered a 75-foot dart that hit Crowder in stride at the opposite free throw line for an easy layup.
“I tipped it and I saw it bounce and I didn’t see anybody go for it,” Turner said. “I was just trying to hurry up and save it. I saw Sully kind of like even with Lopez. I was just hoping somebody on my team grabbed it and when I threw it I just heard cheers, and I heard even more cheers when I turned around and Crowder layed it up.”
Sullinger, who has made an art of outlet passes lately, including earlier in the game when he sent a stumbling shot put the length of the floor for another Crowder layup, just instinctively hurled the ball.
“It’s like I have a hot second whether to throw it or not,” Sullinger said. “It’s just one of those plays where you say, ‘[F—] it,’ and you just throw it.
Added Crowder: “[Sullinger] knows I’m always taking off and, if I contest a shot, I’m taking off and expect him wherever he is to clean up. He knows I’m there, and the floor was unbalanced the whole night with the triangle offense. They had a lot of guys below the free throw line, and that gives us opportunities to run for the rim.”
Crowder said he made the decision to sprint as soon as Turner broke for the ball.
“Once I knew he was going for it, I was gone. And by the time Sully caught it I was at half court or beyond,” Crowder said. “It’s just a matter of if Sully gets his head up he can see.
“As you see, he has the strength to get it from one end of the court to the other. A lot of guys in the league can’t do that, and that’s one thing he brings to the table.”
Turner had one of his best overall games of the season, putting up a season-high 21 points on 10-of-19 shooting. Even on a night when Isaiah Thomas put up an efficient 32 points on only 15 shots, there were times when Turner single-handedly kept Boston in the game with his herky-jerky drives to the basket.
And it was Turner who produced a quick, 15-foot pull-up at his free throw line sweet spot that pushed Boston ahead, 103-102, with 36.4 seconds to go. Anthony answered with a tough fadeaway over Crowder, but Bradley used a little misdirection play to get to the basket for the winning hoop with 17.7 seconds to play.
“[Turner] does a lot for us and he’s really played well,” coach Brad Stevens said. “I thought that, obviously, we don’t win this game without him — and we probably don’t win the last New York game without him. He’s been, for whatever reason, he’s been very good in these particular games. He’s usually good anyways, but these particular games he’s been very good.”
Turner, part of Boston’s bench mob but on the floor for the entire fourth quarter, has embraced the idea that everyone on the Celtics needs to make the little plays, the ones that have them 13 games above .500, good for the third-best record in the East.
“We really don’t care about who gets the credit, for the most part,” Turner said. “We all have fun and we all have guys that are all ready to go and play. Each night it can be someone else saving the game and that’s a huge thing, especially when you can lose yourself inside something bigger.”
The Celtics will head back to Cleveland on Saturday, where they produced a last-second win a month ago that helped fuel this current stretch in which they’ve won 19 of their past 25 games.
“We’re just riding the wave,” Turner said. “This is a great team win, a great comeback win. Obviously we’re a confident group right now, and we know [Saturday] we have to come out and compete. Today’s over with.”