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Paul Pierce’s Magical Performance

 

Flash back to 2:52 left in the third quarter of last night’s game. At home, with overwhelming momentum and a one-game advantage in the series, the Atlanta Hawks held an 11 point lead, their largest of the night. In a season that saw this Celtics team experience more than your typical mixture of lows and highs—numerable moments where they were on the canvas with the referee hovering over their head, quickly approaching a 10 count—it finally looked like both this series and the Big 3 era were coming to a surprising close. 

But in the next two minutes, Paul Anthony Pierce would sink three free-throws, grab his eighth and ninth rebounds of the game, and launch a velvety jumper that would kiss the front rim, bounce up in the air, land back on the iron, and drip through the net like it was made of syrup. All of a sudden, Atlanta’s lead was down to a manageable five points; for what feels like the one millionth time since we came to know him as “The Truth”, Pierce had saved the Boston Celtics, allowing his own playoff legacy to continue by building on it with a timeless performance.

His brilliant fourth quarter, where he nearly outscored the entire Hawks squad with 13 of his game-high 36 points in the final 12 minutes, was the stuff of legend, and the type of panache that rationalizes those who place Pierce among the 50 greatest players this league has ever seen. Here’s a shot chart detailing what he did throughout the game, provided by NBA.com.

The importance of this game for both sides was obvious to everyone watching it, but nobody grabbed ahold of the moment quite like Pierce—and nobody had more responsibiliy and pressure weighing on his shoulders. Within the opening three minutes of the game, he had already scored nine points on a wide variety of offensive moves. (When Paul Pierce has the ball in his hands, you can almost see him scrolling through his own mind, going through all the different options in which he can score. I liken it to when I’m sitting on my couch, remote controller in hand, trying to decide which movie I’m going to watch On Demand. That’s how easy he makes it look.)

The single star of this game was Pierce, but Boston’s defense can’t be overlooked. This team was deep in a hole, with dirt getting shoveled in when everybody began to make oven crisp rotations. In the first quarter, starting point guard Mickael Pietrus picked up three immediate fouls that forced him to the bench for the rest of the half, and made Doc utilize a 10-man rotation. But behind performances by the likes of Marquis Daniels and Sasha Pavlovic that can best be described as professional, the Celtics stayed alive long enough to make their captain’s 36 point, 14 rebound game a relevant one. In the second half, Atlanta shot 27.5% from the floor and 20% from behind the three-point line. Apart from the first quarter of Game 1, these two teams have played each other tight in every period this season, but last night the Hawks were outscored by Boston 26-14 in the fourth quarter.

The most amazing thing about Pierce’s performance was that it opened the floor up for Avery Bradley and Keyon Dooling, allowing the two to be a little more aggressive on the offensive end than they were in Game 1. Not only were Dooling’s two HUGE three-pointers Boston’s first of the series, but they were both assisted by Pierce. Coincidence? I think not.

Twitter: @ShakyAnkles

  • ElRoz

    They have different styles of play of course, but Pierce's performance last night – a playoff performance – was "Bird-like"…and "Havlicek-like"…this ranks close second to his 2008 battle with LeBron in game 7 where Pierce scored 41 points.

  • High Rollers

    Great post.

    And Friday we get to see what happens when "Truth Tebow" and "VoltRondo" are reunited.

    Must have been one good night of sleep for Captain and Co. last night!

    • High Rollers

      Has to have alleviated even some of Ray Ray's angst. Man I hope that dude gets to play sometime in these playoffs.

  • -jp

    That 3 Truth hit was just perfect, he knew exactly what the team needed, and it totally took the Hawks out of the remainder of the game. I knew once he hit that hewas saying "there is no effing way we are losing this game" great celtics moment

    • srb

      Nothing like a transition 3 with 18 on the shot clock to make me air punch until my arms are sore

      • High Rollers

        Definitely a goat-or-hero, all-in type of moment.

        • Soft East for LeBron

          Considering he hadn't made a 3 through the first 7.75 quarters of the series, it probably wasn't a wise move. The Celtics were up by 4 in the final stretch of the game and conventional wisdom says to take time off the clock. If Pierce misses that one, it looks like a really stupid attempt.

          Clutch make though. Da Troof comes through when his team needs him.

  • High Rollers

    KG called this team and this system a well-oiled machine. Paul was indubitably the hero last night, but as everyone here has attested, it depended on so much more going right, so many more guys being "professional."

    That said, and no offense to the beauty of Pina's writing, this bit from an Aschburner piece on the Bulls today has got to be the best thing I've read in a while. Short but sums it up across the board.

    "Emotion is a Red Bull, a wake-up call, a pinch, a Taser zap. It's not a business plan. It's not a game plan. It's nothing to rely on across 48 minutes, never mind four games out of every seven. Emotion won't deliver 13 players, a half-dozen coaches and millions of fans through eight weeks of the NBA playoffs." – nba.com

    Emotion, as the logicians would put it, is necessary but not sufficient. If all these C's had was emotion, the run would have ended long ago. But the way some of these games end, one would think it's all the C's do have to carry them through. Because the outcomes are so unbelievable and KG's postgames are so hyped, verbose, voluble, and scintillatingly incoherent. (Have to go to the mental thesaurus to even begin to do that guy justice.) In the end, it's why these guys are just plain "Sneaky, sneaky." And great.

    More than emotion. So much more.

  • Johnny

    With all due respect, Pavlovic played horrible yesterday. He had 2 wide open three’s that he missed, his defense was slow and unagressive, and it’s not thr Pavlovic we know. Good to see Marquis play HUGE for us with Pietrus on the bench for a lot of the first half, and he played aggresive in the 4th quarter, having the difficult task of guarding Johnson. Go Celtics!

    • CG12

      I disagree completely. It would have been nice to hit those 3s, but he still missed fewer than Pietrus or Pierce. He played very good defense on Joe Johnson. He had a nice pump fake and go move for an easy lay up, too. He came in and gave the team some very solid minutes after Pietrus got into foul trouble. That is all we can ask of him.

      • Soft East for LeBron

        Glad to see someone give Pavlovich credit. I'm honestly more comfortable using him than Pietrus or Marquis right now. A 6'7'' SG/SF 3 point shooter (bad misses in Game 2, but it's not like Pietrus was any better) who is unafraid to take the ball to the hoop and has recently demonstrated an ability to finish. And he's stepped up his defensive intensity.

  • zach

    Hawks really looked like they gave up. Have to like Boston at this point. Marquis was huge, what an enigmatic player. He is fearless and seems to really understand the game and this system, but somehow can't do it on a consistent basis.

  • Johnny

    Actually, the only reason why Marquis came into the game was because Pietrus was in foul trouble and Pavlovich had a horrendous first half. After one mistake on defense, Doc opted to go with Marquis instead of Pavlovich. Looked like an off night from him

    • Soft East for LeBron

      I agree Marquis was excellent and especially key defensively. Pietrus played good D in the second half, but was an offensive liability. At least Pavlovich took it to the rim when his 3 wasn't falling. I really wouldn't say it was an awful output from him, he played at least about as well as Pietrus. I wouldn't hesitate to give Sasha more minutes. Definitely if Pietrus doesn't start doing something offensively. If Josh Smith is out, Doc could look to take advantage with big lineups, and I'd give Sasha time at the 2. Of all our 2/3 guys other than Pierce it seems like only Sasha and Avery understand how you have to finish at the basket. On offense, there's been too much fumbling and weak attempts around the rim. Anyways, right now I'm more comfortable using Pavlovich and Daniels than Pietrus. Until he can make a couple threes or demonstrate an ability to drive to the basket.

      • CG12

        All three guys are useful, but bring slightly different things to the table. Pietrus is a more athletic defender, who can stay with the quicker guys. And he is going to jack up 3s, with little conscience. Sasha plays very tenacious, physical D. He gets up into guys and uses his strength to slow them down. He will hit the odd 3, but can also get to the hoop. Marquis is the ultimate chiseler – he can use his positional sense to get the crucial inch he needs to squeeze off an awkward (but effective) runner, to cut to the hoop, or to cut off the path the basket of the man he is guarding. I am comfortable with each of them, and they give Doc a lot of flexibility to bring a little different feel to the game, depending on what the Cs need. I really like our bench this year.

        • GreenTL

          Excellent analysis. Thank you for bringing some clarity to the differences between the 3 of them because I have been struggling to figure out the trade-offs Doc might see. I think you nailed it there!

  • CelticsBIG3

    Here's my question: Wheres that dude Corey the Hawks fan today? HA HA HA

  • High Rollers

    Here's another awesome write-up, this one by Levine of NECN.

    Inspiring play leads to inspired writing, I guess. It's contagious.
    http://www.necn.com/05/02/12/Levine-The-heart-of-

  • High Rollers

    And apparently Mickael Pietrus is all Indiana Jones about snakes. (The whole interview is pretty cool, but the snake reference comes at the very end.)
    http://thebeatofsports.com/BOSNews/tabid/59/artic

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