March 28, 2002
No matter the Celtics' schedule, coach Jim O'Brien always reserves one day a week to work on late-game plays. So when O'Brien called a timeout with 15.1 seconds remaining and drew up the play called "Miami," Paul Pierce knew what he needed to do. Eric Williams inbounded the ball to Pierce, who paused for a moment just above the top of the arc. He surveyed the situation, watching the Warriors' defense overload the right side of the court, where all the Celtics' shooters were ready and waiting. The left side was clear. The play materialized exactly as O'Brien had planned.
Pierce drove through the open space to the basket. Golden State guard Jason Richardson could not stop Pierce from going to the rim. Center Erick Dampier got his right arm up high enough to alter the shot, but Pierce banked in the righthanded half layup/half jump shot with complete confidence. The play gave the lead back to Boston with 10 seconds remaining. After Pierce stole the ball on the Warriors' ensuing possession, he went to the line for a pair of free throws that set the final margin of victory over Golden State at 102-99.
"I want the ball when it's late in the game," said Pierce (33 points, 10 rebounds). "I want an opportunity to try to win the game. Coach puts me in those situations. Tonight, he gave me a chance to do it and I came through for him. Coach usually does a good job of drawing up plays late in the game for a last-second shot. The play he drew up was similar to the one we won with against Miami [in November]. Golden State, I don't think, really scouted the play well. I had the whole left side to work with. I saw a lane and I went hard to the basket."
Pierce's shot saved the Celtics from a potentially embarrassing last-minute collapse. When Tony Battie hit a 13-footer with one minute left, the Celtics enjoyed a 98-91 advantage. But Boston gave in to the temptation to take it easy. The Celtics became undisciplined on offense.
Taking only 45 seconds off the clock, the Warriors produced an 8-0 run. Two consecutive 3-pointers - by Antawn Jamison and Gilbert Arenas - gave Golden State a 99-98 lead with 15.8 seconds left. The Jamison shot resulted from a Boston turnover. On the Arenas 3-pointer, the Celtics were packed inside and left the shooter wide open. O'Brien watched the Celtics' miscues and the Warriors' points accumulate and thought, "Well, we just blew that. So, we must call a play that would 'unblow' it." It was time for Pierce and "Miami."
Pierce celebrated the win by jumping onto the scorer's table and exhorting the FleetCenter crowd of 14,224 for one last cheer. After all, they had more to celebrate than just the dramatic finish. The Celtics earned their 41st win, and they are assured of ending the season with a .500 or better record for the first time in nine years. As the regular season draws to a close, it seems each game sets a new high point for the new-generation Celtics. But last night, there were quite a few low points before Boston could gain ground in the ever-tightening Eastern Conference race.
Although Golden State (18-53) was playing the second of back-to-back road games and had won just seven games outside the Bay Area (three since Nov. 13), Boston was well aware of what its opponent could do. The Warriors' last road win came Tuesday night in Minnesota, a Western Conference contender. The Warriors had also defeated the Celtics in convincing fashion during the teams' first meeting in February. So, the Celtics knew better than to take the Warriors lightly, despite the visitors' home at the bottom of the Pacific Division.
By the end of the first half, the Warriors held a 45-37 advantage. While Golden State helped itself by posting a 33-21 rebounding advantage that would grow to 56-41, Boston also assisted by shooting just 29.8 percent from the floor in the opening half. The Celtics were 1 for 11 from 3-point range over the first two quarters.
With the game tied, 27-27, in the second, Golden State went on a 13-4 run and established its largest lead (9 points) with 4:13 left in the half.
The Celtics' shooting continued to be less that spectacular in the third, as they sometimes missed both jumpers and layups on a single possession. But with one good stretch, Boston was able to pass Golden State. A dunk by Walter McCarty (8 points) energized the Celtics and the crowd. The basket, along with the dunk by Pierce that preceded it, started a 12-2 run. Pierce was determined to restore some offensive aggressiveness. He scored 15 points in the third, and all but one of his six field goals that period came on a driving layup or dunk. Boston entered the fourth ahead, 73-67.
"Every game is not going to be a great shooting night," said Antoine Walker (22 points, 7 assists). "We could not get down on ourselves because when we get down on ourselves it hurts us in other areas. Guys start worrying about their shot and why it's not falling. We've got to get past that stage as a team and think defense first, offensive second, and roll from there. Those same shots are going to come around when the game is on the line."