The image really should be burned into the memories of not only Celtics fans, but Boston sports fans.
Paul Pierce bouncing up and down with both arms raised above his head and the widest smile imaginable across his face, knowing the Celtics were just mere moments away from pulling off the near impossible on the biggest stage the NBA has to offer against the archrival Los Angeles Lakers.
It was a stunning turn of events for the Celtics in Game 4 of the 2008 NBA Finals that prompted those emotions from Pierce. The Celtics had completed a furious rally, overcoming a 24-point deficit to the Lakers to notch a historic 97-91 victory and seize a commanding 3-1 series lead. According to Elias Sports Bureau, it was the largest comeback in Finals history since 1971.
But while the epic comeback from the Celtics has lived on, it doesn’t seem to be as revered as some of the other comebacks in Boston sports history.
Of course, the New England Patriots defeating the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl LI after trailing 28-3 will always be the gold standard. The Boston Bruins exhilarating comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game 7 of the 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinals will be right up there in the conversation, too.
It even feels like the Celtics roaring back from 21 points in the fourth quarter in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals against the New Jersey Nets is put on a bigger pedestal.
It has made what the Celtics did that night on the floor of the Staples Center somewhat underrated. But make no mistake, without the comeback, the Celtics would have had a much tougher time hanging Banner 17.
The comeback really was one for the ages as it was before the 3-point revolution where leads in the NBA are now gone in a flash.
The Lakers buried the Celtics at the outset, amassing a 35-14 lead after one quarter and building the advantage to 24 points midway through the second frame. But behind Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett, the Celtics didn’t blink.
They got the deficit down to 18 at halftime and continued to chip away in the third quarter. Aside from Boston’s Big Three, Eddie House and James Posey were integral in the Celtics continuing to fight back.
Both House and Posey had several clutch moments in the second half and contributed to a 21-3 run to end the third frame that was punctuated by P.J. Brown, another unsung hero, throwing down a dunk over Kobe Bryant to level the Celtics with the Lakers.
Despite all that momentum, the Celtics couldn’t pull in front of the Lakers at the start of the fourth quarter. It took until 4:07 left when House sunk a jumper from the right wing off a feed from Pierce for the Celtics to take their first lead of the game.
After that, it was all about holding on and the Celtics continued to make the plays. Allen made a sensational up-and-under move for a layup on a baseline drive and Posey, who finished with 18 points off the bench, drilled a monumental 3-pointer — his fourth of the game — with 1:13 to go to put the Celtics up by five.
The Celtics really just needed one more basket in the waning seconds to close out the Lakers and Allen delivered. Allen sized up Sasha Vujacic from the top of the key and torched the Lakers guard with a drive to the basket. Pau Gasol didn’t react with help defense quick enough after Allen got by Vujacic, leaving Allen unimpeded before he glided to the hoop for a silky-smooth finish, as he always did, courtesy of a left-handed layup with 16.4 seconds remaining.
And that sent Pierce, and many of the Celtics, into a jubilant celebration.
“It’s definitely a great win, one that you’re going to put up there in the library and break back out one day for your kids to watch,” Pierce told reporters after the game. “But I want nothing more than that ring right now.”
Not completing that comeback could have spelled doom for the Celtics. Instead of the series being tied, they had a little bit of a cushion and needed it after the Lakers took Game 5 on their home floor.
If the Lakers could have stopped Boston’s rally at any point in Game 4, Los Angeles would have been in a much better position to take the series from the Celtics and keep them searching for an NBA title.
But knowing they only needed one win at home to capture the crown, the Celtics took care of business in convincing fashion in Game 6. That triggered more celebrating and a Gatorade bath on the parquet for coach Doc Rivers.
That comeback in Game 4 really should garner more attention as maybe things play out differently if it doesn’t happen. Maybe they don’t. It will be a debate that can be talked about amongst the two fan bases.
At the very least, don’t let the incredible comeback get lost in the confetti that rained down from the TD Garden rafters when the Celtics secured the NBA title. It was a historic win that helped the Celtics get another leg up on their bitter rival.