There was no gag, though. While jockeying for position in the post with Shane Battier early in overtime, Pierce picked up his sixth foul and went to the bench. The Celtics faced more than four minutes of crucial basketball without their leader, and that left the Celtics' remaining stars with no choice.
Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen had to bring it home, otherwise the Celtics would be facing long odds in the Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat.
"I told Kevin, 'It's time. We have to take over,'" Rondo said. "I didn't look at Ray and tell him, but he knew what time it was. At that particular time in the game, when your leading scorer goes out, you have to step up and make plays, and that's what we did as a team."
With the Heat blanketing Allen defensively, Rondo took care of the offense and Garnett handled the defense for the Celtics in the final 4 minutes, 22 seconds. The Celtics scored only four points the rest of the way, but Rondo was partly responsible for all of them. He fed Marquis Daniels for a layup attempt that drew a shooting foul (with Daniels making one of two free throws) and scored the final three points himself. Garnett roamed the Celtics' defensive backfield as usual, calling out the movements to Daniels and Mickael Pietrus, two role players who are not always on the court in such situations.
The stars were not alone, though. Keyon Dooling helped Boston stay in the game with three critical 3-pointers and Pietrus would come through with two possession-saving rebounds late in the overtime. Granted, every Celtic's job got a bit easier with 1:51 remaining, when LeBron James picked up his sixth foul, but not too much easier.
"Everybody's got an NBA logo on their shirt," Daniels said. "They still can play. You've just got to go out there and make it tough for them."
The Heat did not experience an emotional letdown when James went out, Mario Chalmers said, but the change in the quality of personnel was obvious. Miami coach Erik Spoelstra elected to use Chalmers and Norris Cole in a double point guard look, but whatever advantage the Heat might have had in speed never translated into points.
Unlike many of the Miami players, who participated in last year's NBA Finals but never tasted a championship victory, several members of the Celtics leaned on their experience. Allen looked around after Pierce fouled out and was reminded that Garnett, Rondo and himself have been through battles like that before. At the same time, he was wary of the Heat, who still had former Finals MVP in Dwyane Wade, and Udonis Haslem, the only other remaining member from the 2005-06 championship squad, on the floor.
"All that has to happen is, it has to be won," Allen said. "We don't care what it looks like. We just want to win the game. We have plenty from that point moving forward, and we had an idea of what we needed to do to close the game out. That was all we cared about at that point."
It did not matter to Allen, Rondo or Garnett that Pierce was relegated to being the most well-paid cheerleader in the TD Garden. They went about closing out the Heat regardless.
Pierce may have been in disbelief when he went to the bench, but he never seemed worried. Maybe it was because he had a feeling that what his team still had on the floor would be enough.