What's odd about the freak show that transpired tonight between the Celtics and the Miami Heat is that earlier today, when the C's showed up for shootaround at the TD Garden, Paul Pierce had barged into Doc Rivers' office and demanded to play tonight.
Rivers was planning to run Kevin Garnett out there instead, giving Pierce the night to rest, but the captain insisted on playing both tonight and Thursday night against the Milwaukee Bucks. He needed both games to get his rhythm for the playoffs.
"That's who Paul is," Rivers declared pregame.
It didn't take Pierce long to realize: He'd made a huge mistake.
Pierce's first-quarter stat line: 2-for-4, four points, zero rebounds, zero assists… and five turnovers. Midway through the quarter, the C's trailed 11-0; at the break, they were down 17-10. Without Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo on the floor, Pierce and the rest of the starting five looked completely lost.
"It's funny," Rivers said afterward. "I kept saying, the quicker we get the starters off the floor, the better chance we have to win the game.
"Mentally, I thought it was very challenging for them -- Brandon [Bass], Avery [Bradley] and Paul. I really did. They looked around, and they didn't see anyone out there, and they were trying to do more stuff. That's why we subbed them out in the third."
It was a miracle that the Celtics ultimately won this game, by double digits even, to notch their third win over Miami in a span of 24 days. They did it with an absurd 46-18 run in the second half, forcing the Heat into awkward jump shots and controlling the tempo on both ends of the floor. And for the most part, they did it without Pierce, who left for good with five minutes left in the third quarter in favor of Sasha Pavlovic.
A smorgasbord of All-Stars were watching from the two benches while Pavlovic of all people took over -- he finished with a season high of 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting including a pair of 3-pointers, receiving some much-appreciated help from E'Twaun Moore (seven points, seven rebounds) and Marquis Daniels (13 points, five boards, four assists, two steals and a block).
It wasn't pretty, but the Celtics managed to win by digging deep into their bench for secret weapons. They had to do what they had to do.
"It was an ugly game," Rivers admitted. "We started missing free throws, turning the ball over... It was just not a pretty thing to watch. But you know, you were watching two groups of guys that hadn't played minutes. You could see a byproduct of the lockout. Those were two groups of guys on the floor that hadn't played a lot of minutes, that hadn't had any practice time."
It showed. Every turnover, every broken play, every bad shot, you could tell these weren't the same Celtics that beat the fully-loaded Heat in their South Beach showdown two weeks ago. Next to that marquee matchup, this was 48 minutes of garbage time.
"Some nights are going to be like that," Daniels said. "We've just got stick with it; just got to get better defensively and offensively. We kind of picked up going into the second half, and it worked out well for us."
The Celtics were pretty terrible tonight, but the Heat -- their B-teamers, with LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in warmups and Chris Bosh looking dapper in his beige suit -- were even worse. Miami's misfits shot 38.4 percent with 24 turnovers, making the Celtics look like world-beaters by comparison.
"Someone had to win the game," Rivers deadpanned. "We did, which was nice."
Indeed they did. Now, let's forget this ever happened.