Larry Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish did not walk through that door - but Paul Pierce kicked it in and brought Tim Tebow with him. That was enough in Game 2, as the Boston Celtics bravely departed Atlanta with an 87-80 victory Tuesday. Pierce delivered a Springfield-worthy effort. He played 44 minutes, dominated every second and slapped the Hawks with 36 points and 14 rebounds.
Truth be told, Pierce owned this game from the start. He stole the opening tip to give Boston the lead, something the Celtics never had in Game 1. He ran Boston's offense, filling in for the suspended Rajon Rondo. He shut down Atlanta's offense in the second half. He hit his free throws. He scored on the break. He scored from the perimeter. He even hit one from beyond the arc. Finally, he held the ball until the final 00.3 was left on the clock.
Even more memorable, he dropped a knee on the Hawks, "Tebowing" after the Celtics took an 85-78 lead with 1:15 to play. Sweet. Of course, you have to keep telling yourself: "He plays for the Jets. He plays for the Jets." If the Celtics are alive past Mother's Day, Tebow might join Lucky and Gino in Celtic lore. "You like to thank God for putting you in these positions," Pierce said of his center-court genuflection. "It wasn't pre-scripted, it just came to me."
It was a memorable sight for nearly everyone except Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who didn't see it. "I missed it," Rivers said during his press conference via NBA TV. "If he did it, that's terrific. I'm a Florida native so I'll take that. I wish he hadn't had done it, but I hadn't seen it."
OK Doc - here you go:
Pierce mirrored his 5-for-19 performance in Game 1 in terms of errant attempts, launching 26 shots, while hitting just 12. But he impacted nearly every Celtic possession. "I wanted to be aggressive from the start, that's what expected from me. We know how to grind it out," Pierce said during his post-game press conference aired on NBA TV. "But this was a team win."
Aggression has been a big word in this series. Rondo showed too much aggression in bumping Marc Davis at the tail end of Sunday's loss. The Celtics displayed no aggression in Game 1, taking only 13 free-throws. Tuesday, Pierce hit 11 of 13 from the line by himself, as Boston nailed 26 of 31 free-throw attempts.
Atlanta's Josh Smith walked out with 4:20 left (later it was announced that he had a left-knee sprain) after getting hip-checked by Kevin Garnett with Boston up 74-72. He should have kept going to Boston. While the thousands of Celtics fans at Philips Arena wondered where he was headed, Pierce decided finish off the Hawks. On Boston's next possession, Pierce completed a give-and-go with Avery Bradley with a beautiful slam off the break. Atlanta then turned it over. Pierce capped Boston's next possession with a throat-cutting three pointer from the top-left of the key to give Boston its biggest lead of the series thus far - 79-72 - and more than enough cushion for victory.
All that hustle caught up to @paulpierce34 after the game as he tweeted: "44 mins tonite to old for this I need a bed right now !!!" Truly the stuff of dreams.
Pierce was Napa Valley vintage. "The only way we're going to win the game is for Paul to play like that. They knew that and he still did it," Rivers said following the game.
Boston's offense staggered early without Ray Allen (ankle) and Rondo (immaturity). The Celtics are a combined 3-for-25 in three-point attempts in these two games and offered a one-dimensional offense most of the night Tuesday in Pierce. Garnett poured in 15 blue-collar points, but also silenced once and forever the debate about whether or not he's a three-point threat with a spectacular airball in the fourth quarter.
The Celtics didn't steal this game, they car-jacked it. The Banner 18 window has to be pried open with a crowbar for this team under the best of circumstances. Their championship DNA was evident as they rallied without Rondo and Allen. Meanwhile, the Bulls, playing in the wake of Derrick Rose's injury, mailed it in during the second half and got demolished at home by Philadelphia 109-92. Not even Tom Thibodeau may be enough to get Chicago to the second round.
Boston needs at least two of the Big Three producing on offense at the same time to have a shot at beating the Hawks, never mind the Heat or Bulls. Then there's the whole "they don't have a real center either" thing. IF Allen comes back for Game 3, IF Pierce and Garnett can produce at the same time, IF Rondo can control the game with losing control of his emotions and inner-child, Boston should be able dispose of this series in six games and contend against any team in the East. The Celtics, however, would still face likely annihilation against Los Angeles, San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the NBA Finals. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.
The oft-hyped Bradley emerged as a credible offensive threat with 14 points and held his own against Jeff Teague. Bradley was able to benefit as the Hawks tried in vain to stop Pierce. The pre-game build-up of Bradley nearly rivaled the hysteria surrounding Aaron Cook. We only wish the Red Sox put as much thought and angst into the Carl Crawford singing as they did into the decision whether or not to call up Cook from Pawtucket.
"We've done it all year," Doc Rivers said when asked about coping without Rondo, Allen and others at various times.
The Celtics get Rondo back for Game 3 at the Garden Friday night, along with homecourt advantage until their next loss in Boston.
Allen's return remains uncertain.
As long as Pierce shows up and brings Timmy with him, they'll have a shot.
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