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Flashback: Another Playoff Moment of Truth

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It's Saturday morning, and perhaps the biggest concern of the Finals has reared its ugly head: killing a two-day lay-off of restlessness between games.

While we don't have any long-term solutions to offer, the extra day affords us the perfect time to take a few minutes for a trip down memory lane.  This trip comes in light of Paul Pierce's whale of a performance in the third quarter of Thursday night's series opener.  That would be the quarter in which he scored eight points in the first 73 seconds of the period (including a four-point play that wasn't waved off) and suffered an injury that briefly put him in a wheelchair before returning for a free throw and two huge treys to complete a 15-point quarter and help the Celtics gain some momentum en route to a 98-88 victory.

It was a performance that got me thinking of some other great moments of Paul Pierce's career, and it didn't take long to conjure up images of the greatest quarter of basketball I've ever witnessed in person, and the time seems as ripe as ever for some reminiscing.

Back on April 27, 2003, The Guru and I made our first postseason trip to the then-FleetCenter for Game 4 of the Celtics' first round series against the favored Indiana Pacers.  The Celts held a 2-1 lead in the series after a decisive 101-83 victory in Game 3, but just as in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals, Pierce and the Celts didn't get off to a great start in Game 4.  In fact, the 2003 game featured a considerably worse start, which left Pierce with just 5 points and the Celts heading to the locker room trailing by a 48-36 count at halftime.

Then came the third quarter.  And with it came The Truth.

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Well, not quite so quickly.  Pierce misses his first two shots of the quarter -- including an epitome-of-the-day-thus-far lefty lay-in that somehow goes in and out -- and the Pacers score two quick buckets to extend the lead to 16.  Ron Artest looks like God's gift to defense on the other end.  Wonderful.

It starts slowly for Pierce.  The beloved Walt-ah Mc-Cah-ty gets the Celts on the board with a trey to start the second half, and PP hits Tony Battie with a lob for an alley-oop.  Deficit still eleven.

But suddenly the star floats to open space for a trey in transition, and Isiah Thomas needs time-out in an eight-point game.

And the floodgates open.

The Pacers can't score or even get a good look.  Pierce catches the ball at the foul line, pivots sharply and lays the ball in.  Plus a foul!  Three-point play.

Right-wing catch-and-shoot fadeaway over Artest.  Nothing but net.  It has since become a Pierce staple.

In the meantime, Pierce's dynamic play is raising everybody's energy.  Tony Battie hits a baby jumper and later draws a flagrant foul from Brad Miller on a dunk attempt (but sadly misses both freebies).  Eric Williams hits a bunny in the lane off a nice feed from Antoine Walker.  You can hear the crowd chanting "DE-FENSE!" anywhere in a six-state radius.  It's still a five-point game as we hit the halfway point of the quarter, but Jim O'Brien's D is swarming and making the Pacers labor on every play, and everyone with a pulse in the building can feel the tide turning.

Two foul shots put the soon-to-be man of the hour in double figures for the quarter and cut the deficit to one.  More from him in a few minutes, but we would be remiss to look back at this sequence of events without a mention of a certain other love-him-hate-him co-captain in green and white.

It's with a strong drive and hard bank shot over Jermaine O'Neal that Antoine Walker gives the Celtics their first lead in what seems like forever.  But his true moment comes on the following play. 

After a Pacers turnover, 'Toine gets the rock standing on the edge of a Dunkin' Donuts advertisement roughly four feet behind the three-point arc on the left wing.  No hesitation.  No doubt.  Bang.  Celtics by four.  Pandemonium.  The feeling in the Fleet during that Indiana timeout -- at 4:22 of the quarter -- was the single best I've ever experienced live. 

Until about fifteen minutes later.

It's easy to forget that the Pacers actually scored the next two buckets to get the game tied at 62 with less than three minutes to play in the period.  At this point, though the Celtics had outscored them by a 26-14 count for the quarter, the Pacers could take solace in the 14-10 lead they held over Pierce.

That wouldn't last long either.

Paul for three on the run.  On the game tape, John Saunders says, "This just in: Paul Pierce is feeling it."  He doesn't know the half of it.

Another defensive rebound.  PP brings the ball down the floor, jump-stops at the left elbow and up-fakes.  Ron Artest bops him.  Pierce throws up an off-balance shot.  It bottoms.  And one.  Then a step-back from the top of the key.  Count it.

Final minute of the quarter.  Pacers can't score.  Celts rebound and hold for last shot.  It's a doozy.

By now, the Pacers have given up guarding Pierce with Artest, and Al Harrington is taking his whack at it.  Pierce holds the ball atop the circles on the left side of the basket, running the clock down and dribbling from side to side.  As he dribbles, the cameras are zooming in to show the viewers at home what's going on between Pierce and Harrington.  Harrington is in his face jabbering at him, and the co-captain is giving it right back.  His head is bobbing from side to side, eyes wide with a hunger that lets you know what's about to come next.

Step up.  Release.  Kaboom.  Three.  Head still bobbing.

Celts by 11 at the end of three.  Pierce with 11 straight points and 21 for the quarter to push the Celts to a 37-14 edge for the third.  Pacers done for all intents and purposes.  PP on his way to a 37-point, 10-board, 7-assist performance for the game.  Celts on the way to a 102-92 victory.  Jungle faithful ready to tear the roof off the building in Beantown. 

That's the feeling I'm talkin' about.  A feeling to remember for a lifetime.

Thanks for giving it to us then, Paul, thanks for bringing it back to start the Finals, and thanks for all the times in between (and prior).

I can't wait to see what the captain aaaaaaaand The Truth has in store for us on Sunday.

(Video courtesy of YouTube user 00theChief)

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