The Truth and Nothing But the Truth
At the end of the Pistons/Celtics series when Paul Pierce was asked to give his preliminary thoughts about his upcoming NBA Finals matchup with the Lakers, Pierce could barely contain his joy. He mentioned that while growing up in Inglewood, California, he was a huge Lakers fan and he hated all Celtics, especially Danny Ainge. He also mentioned that it was now a dream come true for him to be playing against the very team he admired so much. During the first half of the Celtics’ Game 1 98-88 victory over the Lakers, Pierce probably felt stuck in a different kind of dream.
After two quarters of play, Pierce was only able to muster three points. It was not as if Kobe Bryant and Vladimir Radmanovic were guarding him so well, it was just more a function of him not being aggressive. He passed up open shots, made bad passes and overall it looked as if the days off between the Pistons series and the NBA finals had caused his game to disappear. On top of that, Pierce had to leave the game for a time with foul trouble. When he left the game, the Celtics were leading 40-37.
From the moment Pierce left the game, the Los Angeles Lakers went on a 14-6 run, and they led 51-46 at halftime. Ray Allen’s play was inconsistent and Garnett had cooled considerably after a hot start. Only Rajon Rondo’s six points were able to keep the Celtics in the game. And then the Paul Pierce show began.
Pierce must have had flashbacks of Lebron and Game 7 of that Cavaliers series, because he came out of the second half with a very different look to his game. The passive play was quickly replaced by a much more aggressive nature. He came out and hit a lay-up on the Celtics opening possession of the second half. Then he hit an improbable four-point play, by hitting a three-pointer off the glass despite being fouled by Radmanovic. (In fact had San Antonio’s Brent Barry shot the ball while being fouled, the way Pierce did against Radmanovic, perhaps the Spurs would be in the NBA Finals). Four minutes into the third quarter, Pierce had scored eight points, dished out two assists, and the Celtics had pulled into a tie with the Lakers. Then a freak accident posed another threat to Pierce’s dream.
After colliding knees with Kendrick Perkins at the 6:48 mark of the third quarter, Pierce lay crumpled under the basket, writhing in pain. As is the protocol in these types of situations, ABC cut to commercial for 30 seconds or so, and the next image of Pierce must have been just as devastating to the viewers as it was for this teammates. He was in a wheelchair, headed towards the locker room with a pained look on his face. Then ABC took it one step further, by showing Pierce being first carried off of the court and then being put into the wheelchair. In a weird twist of fate, Perkins twisted his ankle a short time later, and he had to exit the game as well. Boston was able to keep the game tied, despite the absence of Pierce and Perkins, but as ABC’s Mark Jackson so adeptly put it, “Would the Celtics be able to maintain this momentum in the fourth quarter?”
Fortunately for the Celtics, they would not have to wait that long to get their answer.
Just 1:45 after leaving the game in the worst way imaginable, a gimpy, but confident Paul Pierce made his way back to the court and the Celtics’ crowd cheered as if Larry Bird, Robert Parish and Kevin McHale were all at the scorer’s table getting ready to check in the game. He was diagnosed with a sprained knee, but the only evidence of that came via the black tape with which it was wrapped. He immediately came out and drew a foul on Kobe Bryant, and although he only made one of two free throws, Pierce seemed to be moving as fluidly as he had before the injury. With a minute left in the third quarter, Pierce decided to unleash “The Truth” one final time.
On the other end of the court Bryant had just hit consecutive jumpers to put the Lakers up by one point, and Black Mamba had that look in his eye that he was ready to take over the game. But just like that, Pierce took the momentum away and then some. Off a fast break, Pierce set up right behind the three-point line, and off a pass from Rondo, he drained a three-pointer to put the Celtics up by one, 72-71. After a missed layup, Rondo led yet another fast break and Pierce set up in the very same spot, avoided Bryant, and hit another three-ointer to put the Celtics up 75-71. Black Mamba was never really a factor after that point and Boston never trailed again.
The big questions between now and Game 2 will certainly be about Pierce’s knee, and to a lesser extent, Perkins’ ankle. As Ray Allen said in the post-game conference, “He will certainly be sore in the morning”, and it could very well turn out that by playing on a sprained knee, Pierce jeopardized his availability for Game 2 and the remainder of the series. But on this opening night of the series, he was able to write a script for that dream he’s waited so long to fulfill.