Pierce's Five Point Possession
Halfway through the third quarter last night against the Rockets (whom the Celtics eventually beat 103-92 after a mini-scare in the fourth quarter halved the lead and forced Doc Rivers bring his starters back), Paul Pierce made five points in one single possession, and what a possession it was! It illustrated in a microcosm some of the great things about the Celtics.
Let's go through it in detail.
With 7:06 left in the third, Yao Ming made a layup off of a Bobby Sura assist. The Celtics then spent fifteen seconds working the ball around in their system. Throughout the game, one of the beneficiaries of the system was Mark Blount, because he is able to hit the 18-foot jump shot and Yao doesn't want to patrol that far away from the paint. In fact, one of Blount's rare misses had come on the preceding possession which led to the Yao score. Perhaps the Rockets felt he couldn't continue to hit that shot and used his last miss as a confirming example. In any event, they refused to guard him with a big man close to him throughout the game, and he took advantage.
In this instance, he was left open at the top of the key for a jump shot. Did the Celtics swing the ball to him and let him take the open shot? No! And what's more, it's a good thing! Here's why:
The Celtics rotated the ball to an even better opportunity! They got it into Tony Allen down low who made an acrobatic move to get in the layup. The beauty of this cannot be overstated since it exemplifies Larry Bird's famous dictum: get the ball to the open man closest to the basket. Blount was open. Allen was in an even better position. The Celtics did the right thing.
Now, the Allen layup, unfortunately, did not count. Why? Because Houston was whistled for a defensive three-second violation. Yao had sagged too far off of Blount and into the paint, but not far enough to double-team Allen. The layup did not count, but the Celtics retained possession and sent Pierce to shoot the technical free throw.
Pierce sank the technical for the defensive three-seconds.
For the next 30 seconds or so, Houston head coach Jeff Van Gundy exploded in a tirade at the nearest official in what seemed like something orchestrated in the Don Nelson school of intentional arguing. He was begging for a technical, and he eventually got it. What does this mean?
It means that, first of all, Van Gundy was frustrated enough to feel at least the seed of the emotion that leads to a coach getting technicals. But it means even more that he chose to blossom and magnify that seed into something bigger than he felt. Why? Probably because he felt he needed to motivate his own troops.
The Rockets were getting out-hustled on their own home court!
Each of the Celtics played with such passion, such gusto, and such heart, that around this time fans starting booing their home team Rockets. Van Gundy needed to spark something within them. A head coach often resorts to picking up a technical in order to get his players' attention; Rivers has done it in the past as well.
But what does that say about the Celtics? That is good stuff. That is, if not the ultimate, then still a very high form of respect, when the opposing coach needs to motivate his players to match the energy of the visiting team.
Pierce stepped to the line and hit the second technical, for Van Gundy's transgression.
It still remained Celtic ball.
They immediately inbounded it and Pierce drove the left side of the lane against Yao, getting fouled by him, the second on Yao. The Rockets were not in the penalty so the Celtics took it out of bounds again.
Again they went to Pierce who drove past the still-sleeping Rockets and elevated high to finish strong. This is notable in itself and deserves a comment.
This year, and especially after Antoine Walker returned, Pierce has been doing a lot more dunking. Before he would get to the hoop slightly out of control and usually on the descent, partially because he had to go through far more defenders, so he would usually be in a position to lay it in or fling it in or bank it in off a wild shot. Not anymore. Nowadays he gets to drive with such strength that he is able to be closer to the rim when he takes off, and he has been looking to dunk more. That is fantastic.
But it's not the end of the story.
As Pierce was in the air still palming the ball for a left-handed dunk, Yao smacked him hard across the head, making Pierce get whiplash in midair. Third foul on Yao and free throws coming, but that's still not the end of the story.
Pierce still finished the play.
And what's more, he didn't have to lay it in after the contact or throw up a heave.
He finished the dunk.
How many people on Earth can finish a handshake if they're smacked by a giant on their head? But Pierce finished the dunk. One of the two most impressive finishes of the game (the other being the Ricky Davis elevation in Vince Carter style over David Wesley on a breakaway dunk: if Ricky had spread his legs he would have cleared Wesley's head).
Now, with Pierce on the ground, the whistle blown, and the foul on Yao, Pierce, shaken, not stirred, stepped to the line, and completed the three-point play.
Nine seconds. Five points. One player. Paul Pierce.
You think that's the end of the story? Think again. Those five points were nearly half of Pierce's 12 point outing for the entire night.
That's the end of the story.
This team won with Pierce only making seven points outside of that nine second span in the middle of the third quarter. That means this is a real team effort, and glory should be spread among them all, young and old.
If you were writing a story about this season's Celtics, you would be hard-pressed to find a more poignant nine-second stretch to epitomize the Celtics of 2005.