With Paul Pierce set to enter the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame later this summer, PaulPierce.net is taking a special look back at some of the best moments in his illustrious career.
In this first top-5 series, we’re looking specifically at what The Truth has done when the pressure is on and when every bucket could prove to be the end of the season or the start of an NBA Finals run.
We’re talking about playoff basketball.
At the No. 5 spot, we looked back at Paul’s shot at the buzzer in his lone season in D.C. to take down the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals.
With the fourth spot, we look back at The Truth’s 40-point outing in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Indiana Pacers to tip off the 2003 postseason.
Paul’s Monster Fourth Leads Cs Comeback Over Pacers
Fatigued and ailing from a sore throat, Celtics forward Paul Pierce didn’t look like himself to start Boston’s playoff-opening matchup with the Indiana Pacers.
Over the first three-quarters of the game, The Truth shot just 4-of-19 from the field while the Pacers held control with a firm lead.
Despite all that was ailing him, No. 34 still managed to leave his mark on the game, overcoming the adversity with a 21-point fourth quarter to rally the Celtics back from a 13-point deficit to steal Game 1 in the final seconds, 103-100.
“My legs were weak. I didn’t have any spring in my shots,” Paul said. “I just stuck with it. I said ‘At least I can make some free throws and rebound.”’
The Truth may have struggled shooting from the floor, but he was perfect from the line, making all 21 of his attempts for a new NBA playoff record for most free throw makes without a miss. (Dirk Nowitzki (24) broke the record during the Dallas Mavericks 2011 title run).
Pacers head coach Isiah Thomas said Paul’s aggression getting to the rim proved to be the difference in the game.
“He was just putting his head down, going to the basket and going to the foul line,” coach Thomas said. “It seemed every time he went into the air, he went to the foul line.”
With No. 34 off his game early, the Pacers grabbed the lead and held it for the entirety of the second quarter, going into halftime with a 58-52 lead. Strong performances from Antoine Walker and Eric Williams, combining for 24 first half points, helped keep the Celtics in the game.
Late in the third quarter, Indiana’s lead ballooned to 16. But Boston ended the quarter on a 6-0 run to cut the lead down to 10. The Pacers responded with a 6-0 run of their own in the fourth quarter to put the lead back up to 13. But after that, it became all about The Truth.
Paul scored all 21 of his fourth-quarter points in the final 7:30, with 11 of those coming at the charity stripe. No. 34 also caught fire from the field, shooting 4-of-5 in the fourth. After the game, Pierce gave credit to his team for giving him the looks he wanted on the floor.
“I thought we did a good job of putting me in position to drive,” he said. “I was able to get to the basket every time. I knew I could beat my man.”
Despite Paul getting most of his work done in the lane and at the line, it was actually a three that sealed the deal and provided the highlight of the night for the victorious Celtics.
The highlight of the night came with 27.5 seconds left in the game, as The Truth delivered in the clutch with a go-ahead three to give the Celtics a 99-97 lead.
Down by one with 32 seconds left, the Celtics drew up an ATO on the sideline to give Paul the ball at the top of the key, where he got a switch on center Jeff Foster and calmly buried the stepback 3-pointer that gave the Celtics a 99-97 lead with 27.5 seconds left.
The Pacers did have a chance to take the lead on the next possession, but Al Harrington’s 3-point try went in and out.
With four straight free throws in the final seconds to ice the game, Pierce finished with 40 points, his second career 40-point postseason effort (46 vs Philly, Game 5, 2002 first round), and another legendary playoff performance to add to his rapidly growing resume.