Like most native New Yorkers, my disdain for Boston and New England area teams –the Celtics, Red Sox, Patriots and Bruins– run deep. I revel in their misfortune and cringe, if, and when, they succeed. However, last night, for the first time in my sports loving life, I found myself on the opposite end of the spectrum and marveled at the performance Boston Celtics veteran-forward Paul Pierce put on in Atlanta.
With their backs against the wall –and with two of their starters sidelined– for Game 2 of the Eastern Conference first-round series, Pierce, single-handedly wiped out an 11-point deficit in the second half against the Hawks, and scored 13 of his 36-points in the final quarter to lift the C’s to a stunning 87-80 at Philips Arena on Tuesday night.
Without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, who was serving a suspension for making contact with a referee in Game 1, and 3-point king Ray Allen, who is sidelined by an injured ankle, Boston Celtics head coach Doc Rivers, before the game, was looking for his team captain to step up in the absence of his starters. Pierce answered his coach’s call, and shouldered the Celtics’ late-game rally as only a player with his experience could do.
Pierce made sure that Rondo’s suspension wouldn’t impede Boston from stealing home-court advantage away from the Hawks. After scoring Boston’s first nine points from the opening tip, Pierce struggled mightily through the second and third quarters. The Hawks appeared to be in control when they pushed out to a 65-54 lead late in the third. But as the fourth quarter approached the 34-year-old Pierce began to put on a vintage display of moves, slow-stepping his way into the paint and methodically piercing the Hawks defense for buckets-after-buckets. He outscored the Hawks all by himself, 18-15, over the last 15:08 of the game. Rivers desperately wanted to get the ten-time NBA All-Star a rest in the final quarter, but he couldn’t afford to take him off the floor. Pierce just kept hitting big shots in the final frame, in which he made five of seven attempts and scored 13 points in the full 24 second-half minutes.
Without Rondo in the lineup the Celtics offense appeared a bit out of sync. As Rivers had hoped for– Pierce restored order. He only had 12 points on 5-of-19 shooting in Game 1, but completely made up for his low-performance in Tuesday’s thriller. The 14-year NBA veteran even managed to tear down a game-high 14 rebounds and four assists to complete his one-man show.
Granted, this wasn’t the first time Pierce has had to rescue the C’s from adversity. This will reside among the best-ever performance by a man with many. Pierce, who passed Larry Bird on the Celtics all-time scoring list in February, clutch gene has been a part of his DNA since he entered the NBA in ’98. From his impressive Game 3 performance –against my beloved New York Knicks– in last season’s quarterfinal series, where he scored 38-points –18 coming from 3-pointers; to his stellar 46-point second half against the New Jersey Nets in 2001 to finish with a game-high 48 points, to later propelling the Celtics back from a 21-point deficit in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals, to score 18-points in the final quarter to led Boston over the Nets en route to completing the greatest playoff comeback in NBA history– Pierce has handled every fourth-quarter possession with intensity and drive that few players and teams can match. That’s why he paused for reflection after his final free throw on Tuesday and knelt down in a Tebow-esque pose– to thank the Lord for making him “The Truth.”
No argument here.