(*Perhaps the easiest sports headline ever written)
With under a minute remaining in game five of the NBA’s Eastern Conference finals, Paul Pierce (aka the “Truth”) brought the ball up the court and paused just shy of the three-point line. His Celtics were up one point, 87-86, to the Heat. Lebron James was guarding him lightly, showing him the respect that players who can shoot jump shots or drive for layups are afforded outside the arc. After a split-second calculation, Pierce decided James was playing him too loosely, squared his feet, and launched a three-pointer that swished through the net, effectively sealing the game for the Celtics. He just shook his head, perhaps in disbelief at his own feat, as he returned to the bench on Miami’s subsequent timeout.
The Celtics would not have been in a position to win had it not been for the play of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo and Brandon Bass, but especially a couple of critical three-pointers from Pietrus late in the game. The second Pietrus’ shots was remarkable for how it was set up. Dwayne Wade of the Heat made an outstanding defensive play at the basket, punching an attempted dunk by Brandon Bass out to the top of the key, where Rondo and Lebron James were scuffling to get position for the rebound. Rondo, seeing that he had no chance to make a clean catch of the ball, opted instead to punch the ball to an unguarded Pietrus, positioned at the corner of the court just outside the three-point line. Pietrus calmly squared up, shot, and swished the ball through.
Rondo’s combination rebound/pass was perhaps the smartest clutch play I’ve ever seen in basketball. It should be immediately enshrined in the NBA Hall of Fame.
The Celtics took a 3-2 lead in the series, which heads back to Boston for game six Thursday night. Since the Celtics did not have home court advantage, they had to win one road game to win the series. Now they can finish it up at the Garden.
But no matter what happens, game five of this conference finals was one of the finest Boston Celtics games I’ve ever had the chance to witness. The Celtics played cat and mouse with the Heat, letting them get up as much as thirteen points, before pouring it on when it mattered.
Don’t rule these Heat out. They are still the most talented team in the NBA, and could very well pull a two-game sweep to make it to the finals. It will take another stellar performance to put them away.