Paul Pierce has built a legacy off of the magical art of the last-second shot. So often in his storied, Hall of Fame bound career, the captain of the Boston Celtics has taken the ball in the crucial seconds of the battle and delivered the most important shot of the game.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise that Pierce did exactly that in Game 5 on Tuesday in Miami.
Pierce took the ball with just over a minute to go and the Celtics holding an 87-86 lead, let several seconds tick off the clock before stepping in and burying a dagger three-pointer, over LeBron James no less, to help Boston stomp out the Heat and capture a 94-90 win, and more importantly, a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals as the series returns to Boston for Game 6.
Pierce was naturally asked about his big shot and explained his thought process, or lack thereof, when he sunk the trey, saying his approach was more instinctual than a calculated approach.
"It's kind of hard to say," Pierce said. "In those situations, things are going so fast, you kind of play on instincts. I saw [LeBron] back up, he gave me a step, I knew it was in my range, the shot clock was winding down and I just took the shot. You know, that's just being in those moments so many times and understanding what your team needs and being able to concentrate and get the best shot for us. I thought that was the best shot. Once I saw him back up, I was able to knock it down."
The captain's shot went down smoothly, but it wasn't the play the Celtics' coach was looking for.
"I kind of wanted him to drive, honestly," Doc Rivers said. "I've been around Paul long enough, and when he gets into the foot work, you knew he was going to shoot it, at least I did because I've seen him enough. I didn't know if I wanted that shot, honestly I thought he was going to drive it, but he made it. That's what players like Paul do. He's a big shot maker, he always has been."
Doc's right, as usual. Pierce is a big shot maker, but what makes shots like these even more memorable is the fact that he was able to shake off a poor performance in the first three quarters and still come up big when it counted. Pierce led the Celtics in scoring after one quarter, but he only had six points on 2-of-7 shooting. At halftime, Pierce was still stuck at six points on 2-of-10 shooting. In the third, five points on 2-of-5 shooting. Pierce finally broke through in the fourth and score eight, two of which were threes, to finish with 19 points on 6-of-19 shooting in the victory.
Another interesting element is that Pierce had not had much success playing hero ball during the regular season, missing several potential game-winning shots. He even came up short on a game-winner in the postseason during Game 3 of the Celtics' first round series against the Hawks (the game went to overtime, and Boston would win anyway). Ironically, Pierce's last big game-winner in recent memory came against the Heat (minus LeBron) in the 2010 playoffs.
That's what makes Pierce great. Well, that and the fact that he's one of the greatest scorers in the history of the franchise with more NBA championships than any other team. Pierce has the ability to shake off a bad game and deliver a dagger. Any place, any time. Talk about ice in your veins. There's a lesson to be learned here for LeBron, the Heat, and any other team that faces Boston. Paul Pierce has the clutch gene. Don't sleep on him. More often than not, he'll make you pay.