Truth Almost Hurts Celtics

By Stephen Alford
Updated: May 6, 2005

BOSTON, MA.—To tell the Truth, Paul Pierce had a brilliant Game 6 – up until the clock struck 12 seconds remaining of the opening round of the Eastern Conference and the Celtics clinging to a one-point lead (84-83). Pierce was fouled by Pacers guard Jamaal Tinsley in an attempt to stop the clock. The foul would have sent the eight year veteran and Celtics captain on the line to give his team a chance for a comfortable three-point lead with two free throws coming to him. But, instead of taking a trip to the foul line, Pierce took exception to the foul. “It felt like I got my face torn off,” is how Pierce would describe what transpired after the referee called the foul on Tinsley. Somehow the Brooklyn native was able to get away with a closed fist inside jab to the jaw of Pierce. No whistle was blown and a technical was not assessed to Tinsley. With that, Pierce took matters into his own hands and sent a message to Tinsley in the form of a light shove with the forearm. Tinsley then violated one of Brooklyn’s rules: Never ran. Never will.

Tinsley ran with it when he took a dive and flopped to the floor forcing the ref to call a technical on Pierce, his second of the game, which led to an automatic ejection from the game. “Got to keep your composure,” a relieved Celtics coach Glenn Doc Rivers would say after the Celtics defeated the Pacers 91-89 in overtime, which means THERE WILL BE A GAME 7! “I didn’t think it was an elbow but Tinsley sold it. I didn’t want this to be on (Pierce) because of that.”

It seemed as though it would be on Pierce when Reggie Miller converted the free throw from the technical and tied the game at 84 with 12 seconds left. The lack of composure was compounded even more when Pierce exited the court. As he made his way to the hallway, the captain and leader pulled a Petey Pablo and “took his shirt off, waved ‘round the air just like a helicopter.” He said he did it to lift up his team, but it looked more like he was bringing attention to himself, showing off his tattoo on his back.

Then NBA rules stepped in and I could only imagine what was going through Pierce’s mind at that point.

With Pierce now unable to take the foul shots, Pacers coach Rick Carlisle had the choice of deciding which Celtic player would shoot Pierce’s free throws, and he made the obvious choice of second year player Kendrick Perkins, a 64% free throw shooter who had not attempted a free throw for the entire series. Predictably, Big Perk missed both attempts and you can’t blame him for that. I give credit to Doc Rivers and each Celtic assistant and player for recognizing that and attempting to lift Perk’s spirits by offering words of encouragement as Perkins slowly walked to the bench.

Miller airmailed a 26-footer with .4 left in regulation and Gary Payton missed a desperation heave as time expired to force the game into overtime.

Fortunately, for Paul Pierce, Antoine Walker and Al Jefferson were able to come up with big plays in the overtime to secure a Celtic victory and force a Game 7 Saturday in Boston. Pierce admitted to a reporter that he wouldn’t have been able to come back o Boston had the Celtics lost Game 6, which would have eliminated them from the playoffs, saying that CelticNation probably would’ve slashed all four of his tires or something. “Paul understood it, it happened, it’s over,” is what Gary Payton said of the incident as he looked toward Saturday.

Did I mention that Antoine Walker was HUGE in overtime.

After Pacers Stephen Jackson squeezed off a remarkable shot from inside to tie the score at 86, And’twine nailed a shot from beyond the arc to give the Cs a three point edge as the shot clock ran down. You may not like the fact that he was out there in the first place but it was a shot that he had to take and had to make. Not only for CelticNation but for himself, since a small lynch mob had formed against Employee Number 8 after being suspended himself in Game 4 and suffering through a bad shooting night in Game 5. Minutes later, the Celtic power forward scored his 24th point and gave the Green a four-point advantage on a nice fake and leaner in the lane from 8-feet on Stephen Jackson with 59 seconds remaining in the game. The shot proved to be the game winner for the Celtics. “I just keep plugging away,” said Walker after the game. Paul keeps carrying us. I just wanted to step up big.”

And step up big he did. After missing 12 of his first 18 shots, Employee Number 8 hit five of his next six shots and finished the game 11-for-26 from the field, including 2-for-4 from beyond the arc. Walker led the Celtics with 24 points and added 11 rebounds. He also committed eight turnovers.

“He just got a quirky game,” said Rivers of Walker’s performance. He makes three then misses layups then makes layups and misses threes. More important, ‘Toine was great on the defensive end. I’m really happy he made those big shots. That was good to see.”

But the game would not have been won if not for the play of the Celtic gem; the rookie; the Emerald; Al Jefferson. Jefferson opened up the second quarter by rebounding a Ricky Davis miss and slamming home his point to pull Boston to within five (22-27) with still 11:41 to play in the half. He followed that up with three the hard way (field goal and free throw after being fouled) to pull Boston to within four (25-29) with 9:30 left. After the Celtics made a charge and Ricky Davis gave them the lead on a three-pointer (37-36), Paul Pierce fed the Emerald down in the blocks for another dunk, which gave Boston a three-point lead (39-36). “Coming into the game do or die, I knew rebounding would be big,” said Jefferson. “We just had to attack them first. Game 7 is still do or die.” When asked if he felt like a rookie still, the Emerald answered, “I feel like a rookie steppin’ up.”

Step up is an understatement. The young Jefferson finished the game with 11 important points (5-for-12 from the field, made his only free throw attempt), and tied a game-high 14 rebounds (eight offensive rebounds). He also was credited with two blocks in 29 productive minutes.

By the end of the half, after being down by as much as 11, the Celts were able to make a run thanks in large part to the young rook, as well as Paul Pierce, who hit his tenth point of the half with .2 seconds remaining to give Boston a 49-43 lead. Pierce, struggling all series with protecting the ball, did not commit a turnover the entire first half. “I just took my time,” Pierce said at halftime. “The game is going to come to me.”

And it did.

Pierce finished the game with filling the stat book with 20 points (7-for-12 from the field, no-for-2 from beyond the arc, perfect six from the free throw line), 11 rebounds, six assists, four steals, a block and only one turnover in 44 minutes of action before being escorted to the locker room after being kicked out of the game. “I got to do a better job keeping my cool,” the admitted the Truth after the game.

“I guess I overreacted to a hard foul that I thought was unjust, I just lost my cool and it almost cost us. I’m just happy we got this win. I’m pretty much speechless. The guys really picked me up. I don’t know how I would feel right now if we had lost this game all on a bonehead play. I just have to do a better job of keeping my cool.”

During the post-game interview, Antoine Walker sat at the table with Paul Pierce. Pierce showed up to the interview with tape wrapped around his jaw, down the bottom chin, and around the back of his neck. When questioned about the tape, Pierce repLIED, “I have a broken jaw. And then corrected that statement and said, “I have a fractured jaw.” At that moment, Walker could no longer contain himself and broke out in laughter telling the media “I’m outta here.” Pierce finished answering the question that was posed to him and followed ‘Toine, leaving with a straight face.

Doc Rivers summed up Game 6 the best: “Craziest freaking game I’ve seen in my life.”