BOSTON — A reputation for being “clutch” is hard to earn, and once it is bestowed upon a player, the label is fickle. Miss a few big shots or lose enough close games, and defenders no lower shrink away in awe.
Paul Pierce has had a rough run of very un-clutch moments this season, de-mystifying his ability to come through late in games. Yet with the game on the line against the Clippers on Sunday, Celtics coach Doc Rivers did not flinch in putting the ball back in his captain’s hands. With the Celtics up by two points, Pierce ran down the clock and nailed a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to clinch Boston’s fourth consecutive victory.
The shot was far from a foregone conclusion based on Pierce’s recent track record in late-game situations. He let himself be trapped along the sideline in the waning seconds of a loss to the Bulls, then mishandled a dribble-handoff with Jason Terry into a turnover on the last possession of a defeat against the Knicks. In the final loss before the Celtics’ current win streak, Pierce had his last-second shot attempt blocked by Josh Smith in a defeat in Atlanta.
Yet the Celtics never lost faith in Pierce’s ability to come through, according to Kevin Garnett.
“He’s the original Celtic and we go how he goes,” Garnett said. “On nights when he’s not going, we obviously try to support him and help him, but this is Truth’s house. That’s never been misunderstood since I’ve been here. We have all the trust in the world in him.”
Almost everybody in the building assumed the Clippers would foul on the final possession, which began with 26.6 seconds left in regulation. Rivers admitted he drew up the play in the preceding timeout not knowing what the Clippers would do, and Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro‘s comments suggested he also vacillated on the decision. They ultimately decided not to foul and to test their luck against Pierce.
Despite his struggles in those types of situations of late, Pierce came through. He still carries the clutch gene. It has just been dormant for a while.