Some of the most memorable plays of Paul Pierce's career have come within a hair of sheer disaster. So many times, Pierce has appeared to be moments from losing the ball, getting his shot blocked or picking up his pivot foot before suddenly executing a move no coach in his right mind would ever have taught him. Yet so many times, it has worked.
It only made sense then that one of the finest playoff performances of Pierce's career came with the Celtics similarly poised for disaster. Rajon Rondo's suspension all but eliminated the Celtics' margin for error entering Game 2 of their Eastern Conference playoff series against the Atlanta Hawks as they entered trailing one game to none. The Celtics needed a distributor to replace Rondo, a scorer to compensate for the continued injury absence of Ray Allen and a defender to check the Hawks' Joe Johnson. Pierce put it best.
"I felt I had to do everything," Pierce said.
"Everything" was essentially what he did, scoring 36 points and grabbing 14 rebounds in 44 minutes to lead the Celtics to an 87-80 win to even the series at one game apiece. In a way, it was vintage Pierce, but Pierce's game is so unconventional and unpredictable, it is virtually impossible to define what one of his "vintage" performances actually entails.
Whatever it is, this one qualified. Pierce did not lead the Celtics offense — he was the Celtics offense. Until Avery Bradley hit a free throw with 9:38 left in the game, Pierce was the only Celtics player with double figures in scoring. He accounted for more than half of Boston's 24 points in the first quarter and exactly half of the team's 26 points in the fourth quarter. He played every solitary second of the third and fourth quarters, and Celtics coach Doc Rivers only briefly considered giving Pierce a rest at the beginning of the fourth quarter before realizing Boston could not afford to sit him.
Rivers has watched Pierce pull off some improbable victories for eight years, but when taking into account all of the personnel shortcomings working against the Celtics, the coach still expressed awe over Tuesday's show.
"That was the only way we were going to win that game, literally," Rivers said. "The only way we win the game is if Paul played like that. He knew that. So did they. Yet he still did it. That just tells you how special he is."
Late in the proceedings, when it was assured the Celtics would win, Pierce hit a free throw, backpedaled to midcourt and went down on one knee for a trademarked "Tebow." Despite the odds, Pierce had faith in his abilities, and the Celtics could have faith because they had Pierce.
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