LOS ANGELES - With 1:40 to go and the Lakers leading, 81-76, Paul Pierce went crashing to the hoop, and his driving layup went off the backboard and clanged off the rim as he landed on the Staples Center floor.
Even though he was 2 for 12 - on his way to a 2-for-14 homecoming horror show - Pierce still held out hope he could lead the Celtics back; that a shot that hadn't fallen all night would fall when it counted most.
"I think all my shots are going to go. I'm not going to just throw it up to throw it up," said Pierce, who had just 6 points in an 87-81 loss last night in Game 3 of the NBA Finals. "It's the breaks of the games. I got a smile on my face even though we lost because I know we're going to play better. I just know it."
In Hollywood, the homecoming hero always wins, but Pierce forgot to follow the script. Pierce's return to his native Los Angeles went totally awry - just like his shooting stroke. The bottom line on Pierce's night is that he finished with one more point (6) than personal fouls (5) and one more turnover (3) than baskets (2).
For much of the game the fact he'd have more points than fouls wasn't a given. At 8:56 of the fourth quarter, Boston led, 66-64, despite the fact Pierce had three more fouls (5) than points (2).
"It's frustrating when you don't shoot well, but . . . by no means is it going to break my confidence," said Pierce. "When I look back there were some shots I took that were good shots for me. They just didn't fall. I got myself out of rhythm by getting in foul trouble."
Pierce has usually played well when returning home. In the regular-season meeting against the Lakers the pride of Inglewood had 33 points. But with the Celtics coming back to Southern California with a 2-0 lead in the series, Pierce acknowledged he was too hyped up to play in front of his friends and family.
The result was that despite taking 11 shots, he had just 2 points in the first half, on a reserve layup. He didn't score again until he converted a drive while being fouled with 3:53 left to cut LA's lead to 77-72. Of course he missed the free throw.
Pierce was not the only member of the Big Three who left his stroke in Boston. Kevin Garnett struggled through a 6-of-21 night. The two combined to miss their first 10 shots and shoot 2 for 16 in the first half, yet the Celtics only trailed, 43-37. Boston actually led, 62-60, after three quarters, despite Pierce only scoring 2 points.
The Celtics superstar, who finished with 6 points, didn't credit the Lakers defense for his woeful night. He put the onus on himself.
"I think this is one of the first games they really didn't double me tonight. It's all on me," Pierce said.
Pierce did have to deal with the defense of Kobe Bryant, an All-NBA first-team defensive selection.
But even Bryant, whose team now trails, 2-1, in the best-of-seven series, doesn't expect Pierce to play as poorly as he did last night.
"He's a bad boy. He's extremely versatile, can go left, can go right. He's a very tough cover, as tough as you're going to have in the league," said Bryant. "I just tried to accept the challenge and make it as tough as you can for him."
The last time Pierce played this poorly wasn't that long ago. He had only 4 points on 2-of-14 shooting against the Cavaliers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The next game he had 19 points.
"It's good because I'm going to learn from it and put this one behind me and move on," said Pierce. "I shake games like this off well and usually bounce back."
Now, he has two more games in LA to do so.
Christopher L. Gasper can be reached at email@example.com.