Pierce Buzzer Beater Takes Down Theo Ratliff and the Blazers


Less than a week ago, Doc Rivers talked about the Celtics lacking the kind of toughness needed to pull out close victories. After last night's game at the FleetCenter, no one can question the toughness of Paul Pierce.

Coming back from seven hours of dental surgery, Pierce hit a buzzer-beating 21-footer from the left wing to give Boston a 90-88 win over the Portland Trail Blazers. The shot came only moments after Pierce took a hit to his mouth.

With 54.3 seconds left, Pierce (20 points) was called for traveling, giving the Trail Blazers a shot at the lead. But Darius Miles could not convert around the basket. In an attempt to gather the rebound, Ruben Patterson slapped Pierce across the face. Pierce remained in the game. A Gary Payton layup attempt was blocked by Theo Ratliff. But on the other end, Zach Randolph (22 points) made just 1 of 2 free throws to tie the game with 19.1 seconds left.

The Trail Blazers took the lead for the first time when Patterson scored on a layup with 8:11 remaining. After Payton threw up an airball and Damon Stoudamire missed on the other end, Ricky Davis gave Boston back the lead with a driving layup. The teams remained close throughout the fourth quarter. But Boston saw the momentum turn in its favor at the five-minute mark when Payton hit a 3-pointer, followed by a layup from Raef LaFrentz (18 points, 10 rebounds) that pushed the home team ahead, 82-79, with 4:23 to play.

Despite swarming defense beneath the basket, Miles hit a 3-footer that again made it a 1-point game. Mark Blount answered with a 17-footer. But at the other end, Miles hit a 5-footer with 2:44 to go that gave the Trail Blazers an 85-84 edge. LaFrentz returned the lead to Boston with a 3-pointer, but once again Miles had an answer with a tip shot that tied the game, 87-87. When LaFrentz hit 1 of 2 free throws with 1:37 remaining, it gave the Blazers a chance to retake the lead. But Randolph missed a 6-foot attempt over Blount, and the Celtics once again had an opportunity to stretch their 1-point lead.

Throughout the third quarter, the Trail Blazers chipped away at the Celtics' sizable lead, turning a blowout into a close game. After leading by as many as 20 points late in the second quarter, Boston held onto a 7-point lead (71-64) at the end of the third. It was a discouraging turn of events for the Celtics, who once again found themselves in need of some fourth-quarter heroics before a home crowd.

The Celtics surged to a 10-point lead in the first quarter and a 53-39 halftime advantage by shooting 50 percent and posting a lopsided advantage on the glass.

Rivers knew rebounding would be important, especially considering the considerable size advantage held by Portland. But while the Celtics were the aggressors throughout the first half, the Trail Blazers appeared generally disinterested as they struggled for the second night in a row. On Tuesday at Continental Airlines Arena, Portland shot just 24 percent (19 for 78) in a mind-numbing loss to New Jersey. Rivers worried the Blazers might be due for an offensive explosion.

"Every time they missed a shot, you're thinking, 'Make some shots,' because we're thinking no way they shoot that poorly two games in a row," said Rivers.

But Portland did just that as its shooting percentage dropped precipitously from the first to second quarters. Boston held a 27-22 advantage at the start of the second and stretched its lead. The Celtics opened the second with a 10-0 run, starting with a dunk from Al Jefferson and finishing with a hook shot from the rookie. A pair of free throws from Blount with 2:03 left in the second pushed Boston ahead by 20 (53-33).

By the end of the opening half, the Celtics held an 18-14 advantage in points in the paint and a 12-1 advantage in fast-break baskets. LaFrentz was on pace for a double-double. Meanwhile, Payton picked up the scoring slack for Pierce. Randolph and Shareef Abdur-Rahim were forced to carry the scoring load for the Blazers as their teammates' struggles carried over from the Nets game.

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