Marbury sets stage for comeback
It was in a Manhattan law office -- during a bathroom break, in fact -- that Stephon Marbury's future was decided.
In late February, Marbury was still under contract to the New York Knicks when his representative, Hal Biagas of the players' union, had an impromptu meeting with the attorney fighting Marbury's grievance against the Knicks, who had fined Marbury. The two lawyers decided on the spot to settle the matter, and within hours, Marbury was a free agent and on his way to wearing Celtics green.
The Boston brain trust, despite vocal critics of their decision to sign Marbury, saw a player who might be able to make a difference one night, long after the Knicks' season had ended, and make their $1.2 million investment (not counting the extra $1.2 million in luxury tax) pay off.
"He was the key to the game, really, I thought," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said of Marbury, who checked into the game with 11:22 remaining in the fourth and the Celtics trailing by 10, the new Garden practically silent as the defending champs were looking all but done.
A 19-footer, good. A 20-footer on the next possession, good.
A 3-pointer that you could see was going to be good as the ball was in flight, and then a 20-foot pull-up jumper and a 5-footer on which he was fouled and then completed the three-point play after a timeout.
Added up, it was a dozen quick points for Marbury, who had totaled only 36 in Boston's first 12 postseason games and 88 in his 21 regular-season appearances.
Boston actually did not gain any ground on the Magic during Marbury's 5½-minute stint on the court; the Celtics still trailed by 10 when he checked out for good with 4:55 remaining after Hedo Turkoglu had made it 85-75 on a bucket with 5:39 remaining.
But Marbury had kept the Celtics within striking distance, and Turkoglu's bucket turned out to be the final field goal Orlando made Tuesday night as the Celtics pulled off a stirring, stunning comeback and took a 3-2 lead over the Magic in their Eastern Conference semifinal series with a 92-88 victory.
It was his biggest clutch performance, Marbury was asked afterward, since when?
"Phoenix-San Antonio, when he hit from half court," Paul Pierce interjected, referencing a first-round playoff series from six years ago.
Marbury shook his head in agreement (forgetting his Team USA-record, 31-point performance in a quarterfinal victory over Spain at the 2004 Olympics in Athens) and had a laugh at his own expense, realizing that the number of clutch performances he had put on like this one could probably be counted in single digits from the time he led Lincoln to the New York City high school championship until this night of unlikelihood in Beantown.
"The timing was right for me to go in and do what I did. When I got in the game, my whole mindset was to create something where we could change the flow of the game," Marbury said, explaining how he had been inspired by a pregame talk between the team and coach Doc Rivers in which the subject was a puzzle, and Rivers' question pertained to which were the most important pieces.
Rivers' lesson was that no single piece was important, but rather the picture that all the puzzle pieces created.
It was an apt analogy on a night when the Celtics got a boost from a piece of the puzzle that hadn't quite fit in over his first 2½ months in green and white, a player whose shot wouldn't fall, whose drives ended in more misses than makes, and whose contribution to locker-room chemistry had historically been more volatility than Velcro.
"He has been great for us. I mean, he just hangs in there, keeps working every day. He's been very patient," Rivers said. "This has been tough for him. He's never been taken out in order to put starters back in. That's always been him going in, and he's been able to handle it well and be a great teammate. So I'm just happy for him, I really am."
The rest of the comeback -- Boston went from an 85-75 deficit to an 88-85 lead thanks to a 13-0 run -- said as much about the Magic as it said about the Celtics.
Orlando had all the killer instinct of Gandhi, and the Celtics rode a wave of energy to score on their next four possessions and make it a two-point game.
And after Rafer Alston either threw a horrible alley-oop pass or missed an 8-foot left-handed hook shot (it was impossible to tell what he was trying to do), Ray Allen's 3-pointer with 1:20 remaining put the Celtics ahead to stay. Orlando was lucky to even get a shot off on its next possession, Alston missing a 3 as the shot clock expired after recovering a deflected pass. Then the Celtics grabbed two crucial offensive rebounds (one of which came on a play that was originally ruled a 24-second violation before the referees huddled and decided that the ball had nicked the rim) before getting a pair of free throws from Eddie House with 8.5 seconds left for a three-point lead.
Orlando failed to grab the offensive rebound off Dwight Howard's intentional miss from the line with 5.9 seconds left, and Glen Davis sealed it from the line by burying two free throws with 4.6 seconds remaining.
"We kept thinking it's going to turn around at some point in the game. We've done it before, we have a battle-tested team," Pierce said. "It looked bleak for a while, but everybody has a part to play, a role to play, and tonight it worked out. We're a team that's never going to give in."
It wasn't quite bedlam in the Garden, but it was as loud as the building had been since the first round against Chicago, the collective disbelief at what had just transpired amping up the decibel level enormously.
The champs had finished like champs again, just like in Game 4.
Chris Sheridan covers the NBA for ESPN Insider. To e-mail Sheridan, click here.
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