BOSTON — Jason Terry has a summer job waiting for him whenever the NBA season ends. The veteran guard, who has expressed a desire to coach in the NBA once he is finished playing, has an AAU coaching gig awaiting him.
As great as that experience would be for his second career, for now Terry is not ready to say goodbye to his first career. Nor is he ready to say goodbye to a season that would have made a weaker person want to run off and hide.
Terry finally came through with the type of clutch performance the Celtics anticipated when they signed him last summer, scoring the team’s last nine points in Boston’s 97-90 overtime win over the Knicks on Sunday. Terry’s shooting helped the Celtics avoid a sweep in their first-round playoff series, while also giving him some slight redemption in a disappointing season.
“I’ve just been patient,” Terry said. “As long as there’s time on the clock, as long as there is another game, it’s an opportunity for me to do something special. That’s just the type of player I am. Whether I’ve made every shot or missed every shot, I have the same focus, the same confidence.”
Terry’s 18 points helped swing the advantage in bench scoring back in Boston’s favor after three hapless games. The absence of J.R. Smith, who was suspended for clocking Terry with an elbow late in New York’s Game 3 win, had a lot to do with that.
Even with the unpredictable Smith out, though, Sunday’s game was wild. The Celtics burst out to a 20-point lead before the Knicks surged back to force overtime behind the fiery shooting of Carmelo Anthony and Raymond Felton. As the Celtics lead shrank, leading to a back-and-forth game in crunchtime, Terry literally bounced up and down with enthusiasm.
“He was so excited,” Avery Bradley said. “He’s like, ‘This is fun. Come on, man. We can beat these guys.’ Everybody’s energy just rose, and you saw how JET played in overtime.”
This was the player the Celtics have been missing. Coach Doc Rivers has been lauding Terry all year long, but as the season wore on, Rivers’ compliments fell on deaf ears. Sure, Terry hit a ton of pull-up 3-pointers in Dallas and Atlanta, but such big shots have been rare in Boston. When Terry nailed a pull-up three to give the Celtics a lead late in the overtime on Sunday, then rolled off a screen on the next possession for a midrange jumper, Rivers was nearly as vindicated as Terry was.
“I didn’t know him until this year, and I’ve told you before, he’s just one of those guys you want around your team, whether he’s playing or not,” Rivers said. “He brings sunshine. There’s guys — I would say probably most of you guys [in the media] bring dark clouds every time I see you — but the sunshine-bringers, that’s who you want. And Jason Terry is one of those guys.”
In some cases, Rivers would be preaching to the choir. Jason Kidd and Tyson Chandler know all about what Terry can do, as both helped him win a championship with the Mavericks two years ago. Kidd, who is now playing against Terry as a member of the Knicks, was not surprised Terry delivered in the clutch in Game 4.
“He’s a fighter,” Kidd said. “He’s a guy that’s not ever going to give up. I’ve seen it up close.”
Honestly, Terry has a long way to go before Celtics fans will completely allow him into their hearts. His first season in Boston has been too much of a disappointment to be forgotten just because of five stellar minutes. Had a few bounces gone New York’s way in regulation, maybe the Knicks complete their comeback, knock off the Celtics and Terry never gets his chance to rewrite the story in overtime.
But he did get that chance. The Celtics are still alive. There is at least one more game Wednesday in New York before Coach Terry needs to draw up practice plans for his AAU team. The summer job has to wait. In his full-time job, Terry has at least once more chance to salvage an otherwise forgettable season.