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Classic Box Score: The Big Comeback

Remember this addictive ad from last spring (courtesy of the NBA’s consistently great group of (m)ad men)?

Paul Pierce wasn’t kidding about never giving up. Eight years earlier, he was at the forefront of the greatest fourth quarter comeback in NBA playoff history. When the Jim O’Brien-coached Celtics inbounded the ball to start the fourth quarter of game three of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals, they were down 74-53. For the next twelve minutes, the C’s outscored the New Jersey Nets 41-16 and walked off the court with a 94-90 victory and a 2-1 series lead.

The Nets would go onto take the final three games of the series, vanquishing the overachieving Celtics and setting the stage for what was, at the time, a controversial rebuild by an incoming Danny Ainge. Still, the game has taken on a mythic quality amongst Celtics fans, probably because the thrilling fourth quarter (which you can watch in its entirety after the jump) came smack dab in the exhausting 15-year dead zone between the original big three and the new big three.


For the most part, it was a horrific game for the Celtics.

Pierce had missed 12 of his 14 shots through three quarters and had spent a good deal of time complaining to the refs rather than locking in and just playing. Remember that Pierce, for all his scoring gifts, was periodically petulant back in those days. For better or worse, Walker was the leader of this team. On this night – it would be for better. Between the third and fourth quarters, Walker delivered a verbal beatdown to his teammates (footage of which is on the first youtube clip below) that inspired them to, ahem, step it up (it’s all about having the heart of a champion).

Let’s have a look at the final numbers:

A few observations:

-It’s just inestimably sad to watch Rodney Rogers racing around the court knowing of the accident to come.

-If you think the Eastern Conference is weak now, look what it sent to the NBA Finals in 2002. Jason Kidd basically was that New Jersey team. You had a starting lineup filled with expendable parts like Kerry Kittles, Keith Van Horn and Todd MacCulloch. How would that team fare in the Eastern conference today? A sixth seed, maybe?

Paul Pierce: Elite Scorer is on full display in these clips. Nobody could stay with him one-on-one and the Nets even struggled to stop him two-on-one. If he isn’t going around guys with a quick first step, he’s using his strength to bulldoze to the hoop and finish strong, often against contact.

-The Celtics did a great job pushing tempo in that final period. Off every missed shot or New Jersey turnover, Kenny Anderson (in the final estimation – a pretty decent point guard) would race up floor and all the Celtics would go with him. Pierce, in particular, seemed a step ahead of everyone else on the floor in transition.

-The Nets just folded. The crowd is berserk in this one, willing the C’s to greater heights and then cheering even louder when their team reaches them. It only takes a couple of minutes of game time before New Jersey tightens up, and Boston’s harassing defense forces them into turnover after turnover. The C’s blitz was on early, and everyone knew it, but the Nets just couldn’t recover, couldn’t match the Celtics energy, couldn’t hit a shot.

It’s all well worth revisiting if you haven’t done so recently…

Last Week’s Classic Box Score: Antoine Walker’s Career High

  • I_Love_Green

    Oh man I was there for that game! I was so lucky to get tickets, and to start the 4th quarter I felt unlucky to get the tickets. Whenever I rewatch that game, one thing that sticks out is how skinny Pierce looks. Can't imagine him playing SG in the league nowadays.

    Then I think the next game Pierce missed a free throw or something like that, which could've put us up 3-1. We were pretty close to a Lakers vs. Celtics finals that year.

    • I_Love_Green

      Oh and thats the year people started calling our arena The Jungle because of how crazy the crowds were in the postseason.

    • Berkcelt

      Yeah Paul missed the free throws at the end of regulation; would've sent it to OT. Man, that was looking good (the prospect of seeing Shaq in the Finals was a little less thrilling, though we beat the Lakers at least once that year (on Antoine's banker in LA! Kobe's shot waved off, ha!). I don't remember a lot from that series but I remember Jason Kidd taking charges on Pierce all the time. A lot of them were race in and slide under (Duke charges) and it was so frustrating because he got the call I think literally every time. Ugh…for some reason he didn't do it in that fourth quarter though of game 3.

  • BH24

    Awesome… weird to see KMart without the lips tattoo…

  • irisheyes9302

    Thanks for posting this! That was such an intense game. This kind of makes me miss Toine. And his wiggle.

  • Nick

    I was at the game. I was so pissed off for the first 3 quarters but the 4th…greatest game I've been to, it was so loud!

  • SickOfYOU

    How quickly you forget. Oh wait you would have had to actually watched the team before KG to realize your article is complete BS.

    Paul never qives up? Funny because he quit in that VERY game. It took Antoine yelling at him to wake him up from his selfish me first funk. Go watch game 6 and 7 of the 05 playoffs and tell me Pierce never quits.

    The only reason the Celtics were even as close as they were was because Antoine was 9-16 but you go ahead and give Kenny Anderson credit.

    EVERY time I read comments or a blog about this came it just proves to me even more that none of you actually watched the team back then and none of your were actually at this game either.

    Pathetic. Dennis Johnson is rolling over in his grave right now at the so called fans the Celtics has these days. Pathetic. Just plain pathetic.

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