The date was May 9th, 2011 when LeBron James hit his first “dagger” three against Boston. That might not be the proper terminology for it given the circumstances, (it was a game-tying shot) but it feels appropriate. The Celtics had just run off six straight points to take a 84-81 lead with just under 2:30 remaining in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Boston was gutting it out with a hobbled Rajon Rondo, yet had appeared to seize the momentum after back-to-back 3’s which sent Miami reeling and had Boston on the verge of tying up the series at two games a piece.
It was that night on the very next possession where LeBron took the ball in the right corner with the shot clock running down. Paul Pierce was guarding him tightly, but perhaps not tightly enough. With one contested three-pointer, the 33 percent career shooter from beyond the arc changed the entire complexion of that series. Miami was able to fight their way into overtime, and pulled away from there to steal their only win at the TD Garden over the past two years.
The Celtics fought back valiantly in Game 5, playing inspired team ball in Miami for the first 43 minutes of the contest, as a Nenad Krstic jumper put them up 87-81 with 4:30 remaining in the game. I won’t rehash what happened from there, but yet again it was LeBron with multiple contested 3-point daggers that put the C’s away for good in that 16-0 series closing run.
Paul Pierce was the man guarding James as he buried long jumper after long jumper over his outstretched arms as he watched his season wilt away. It undoubtedly haunted him over the last 12 months, as he defended LeBron the only way you could really. In all honesty, you want him taking that outside shot, especially if you can get a hand in his face on it. Pierce did things right for the most part, but still was burned for it.
Fittingly last night though, the tables were turned and the captain had a chance at redemption. Pierce pounded the ball into the hardwood at American Airlines Arena staring into the face of James. The C’s were clinging to a one-point lead with just under a minute remaining and The Truth had battled through a 5-of-18 shooting night.
If there’s one thing Boston fans know about one of the most prolific scorers in Celtics history, it’s that he’s not short on confidence. He relishes these kinds of moments, for better or worse. The fact he had already missed 13 shots in Game 5 did not faze him one bit.
As I watched the 34-year-old run down the shot clock, I knew we would see a shot and implored the captain to take it to the hole. Pierce had shot just 2-of-13 from outside the paint at that juncture in the game, yet nonetheless I knew what was coming.
I asked fellow CelticsHub writer Hayes Davenport after the game what he thought at that juncture before Pierce threw up a deep 3-pointer; “Pure anger,” Davenport admitted to me. “Can you imagine if it hadn’t gone down?”
I hadn’t thought about that possibility I must admit but, there’s a good reason for that.
I didn’t have to.
And you know what, besides Pierce hitting perhaps the biggest shot of the C’s season, I want to give him credit for taking that attempt in hindsight. Why? No one thought he would pull-up from there. Not me, not the American Airlines Arena crowd, and especially not James who was defending somewhat loosely, waiting for Pierce to make his move to his sweet spot at the right elbow and give him a strong contest on would have been a tough shot.
Pierce knew LeBron expected this, yet he still wanted the shot here. He didn’t want to be forced into making a pass and perhaps a rushed shot for a teammate. He didn’t want to take it to the hole and get rejected or risk the contact without getting the foul call. He was the team’s closer and he had to do his job.
And with LeBron’s dagger 3’s from last year likely lurking in the back of the captain’s mind, he took the shot from a place no one was expecting. Ironically, it was from the very opposite wing last year in Game 5 where LeBron hit the closeout 3 in Pierce’s eye to put Miami up 6 with under a minute remaining, effectively putting the game out of reach for the Heat.
Last night, Pierce returned the favor.