Okay, admit it, you were terrified when Amar'e Stoudemire got that close to the rim with 15 seconds to play in a tie game, especially after the torrent of thunderous dunks he had thrown down up to that point. I was slightly terrified, only because last night was one of those nights where Stoudemire was burying, you know, everything. Fortunately the Celtics didn't make things easy for him, and did as good a job of contesting that shot as we could have hoped for.
Paul Pierce secured the rebound with 12.2 seconds to play, with the score tied at 116, and suddenly the possibility of a buzzer beater was on the table. Suddenly things got infinitely more exciting in an already thrilling game. Who doesn't love a buzzer beater? Seriously, those shots are arguably the most exciting in all of basketball, and for one to go down in a game as fun as last night's? What else could we ask for?
Pierce calls a timeout after securing the rebound and the question is immediately asked: Who gets the ball this time? My first thought, without any hesitation: Pierce will get this one (I have proof via Twitter if you don't believe me). Why? Well, with Rajon Rondo ready for a full body cast at that point, I didn't think he'd be in any shape to create for himself or another teammate, meaning we most likely weren't going to see him lob it up to Kevin Garnett the way we did in Philadelphia a week ago. But beyond that, Pierce was having one of his nights, and, seeing as he's always been one to thrive in an atmosphere like last night's (tie game in a famous arena, packed with a hostile crowd), there was little doubt in my mind that the Celtics were ready to give him the ball.
The Paul Pierce isolation play probably defies conventional wisdom in a number of ways. It's predictable (when Pierce is still dribbling above the three point line on the right side with six seconds left, everyone knows what's about to happen), and, as far as I know, the stats don't back it up (apparently that mid-range jumper Pierce so often takes is one of worst shots a player can take in terms of percentage). But there are times where you throw conventional wisdom out the window and just rely on your player. Sometimes we just have to forget about the stats and percentages and trust our guy to do what he does pretty darn well.
There are games when a last second shot is needed, and it doesn't seem entirely fitting for Pierce to take it. It just doesn't feel right. You all know what I mean. When you sit down and watch an NBA game from start to finish, you get a feel for what's going on and what's working and not working, which helps you get a feel for what might work for a last second shot attempt should the situation call for it. Last week in Philadelphia was a great example. Pierce was flu-ridden and was having a pretty low-key night offensively (10 points on 3-8 shooting). The atmosphere didn't call for it. Pierce wasn't having a Paul Pierce-like game. It made perfect sense for the Celtics to go another way.
But last night, Paul Pierce was being very Paul Pierce. All night he was hitting short and mid-range jumpers; he was knocking down three-pointers; he was making his free throws (10-10 last night); he was driving to the hole and finishing while being fouled, even though the officials decided not to blow their whistles on numerous occasions. He was 9-17 from the floor with 30 points prior to his final field goal attempt. Overall, it was a classic Paul Pierce game, which is why it made perfect sense for Doc Rivers to call his number with the game on the line.
Rondo inbounded to Pierce on the left side, who, defended by Raymond Felton, dribbled to the middle of the floor and wound the clock down, waiting for Garnett to come over and set a screen on Felton's left side. Garnett got to Felton with 6.4 seconds left, and Pierce drove right, where he was picked up by Amar'e Stoudemire. Now on the right wing, even with the three-point line, Pierce faced up on Stoudemire, but there were only 4.8 seconds left. At this point I'm thinking, "Uh...Paul...Any time now..." (He does this all the time...Waiting almost too long to get going. He did the same thing in the playoffs against Miami last spring). Clearly he didn't want to leave any time on the clock, but it was starting to look like he was going to have to force a tough shot to make sure that happened. Instead, he drove hard right, and, with 2.8 seconds left, he stopped on a dime with Stoudemire on his heels, stepped back, and fired over Stoudemire's outstretched arm. Swish. I mean, swish.
Okay, so it wasn't quite a buzzer beater, as the clock read 00.4, meaning the Knicks would have time for one final play. There has been some controversy over this, as some people have suggested that the Knicks should have had 00.6 seconds to work with, rather than 00.4 Zach Lowe touched on some of those details, here. Would Stoudemire's three-pointer have counted had he had an extra two-tenths of a second? I'm not sold on that, but that's strictly my opinion. If you watch the replay, Stoudemire had to catch the ball on his left side, turn to the basket, get the ball into proper shooting position, jump, and then release. I don't think all of that can happen in 00.6. Again, strictly my opinion.
Bringing things back to Pierce, I'll happily add this game-winner to his resume. I've always been about Pierce getting his due around the league, so I was especially happy that last night's game was televised on ESPN and most likely served as SportsCenter's top story this morning. A shot like that should certainly help Pierce's reputation, especially with those who are unfamiliar with how clutch the man really is. And man, is he clutch or what?