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.
With the No. 4 spot on this list, we highlighted Paul’s 21-point fourth quarter performance that led the rallying Celtics over the Indiana Pacers in Game 1 of the first round of the 2002-03 season.
For the No. 3 spot, we take a look at one of Paul’s greatest clashes with long-time rival LeBron James, a Game 7 showdown at The Garden that lives on as a defining moment in Boston’s run for Banner 17.
Truth Goes Mano a Mano with LeBron, Comes Out On Top in Game 7
In a game so heavily centered on teamwork, it’s not often you see games come down to the pure scoring abilities of two players at the height of their powers. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals between the Boston Celtics and the Cleveland Cavaliers gave us just that.
Thanks to an all-world performance from Paul Pierce going shot-for-shot with LeBron James, the Boston Celtics advanced to the 2008 Eastern Conference Finals.
In the 97-92 Celtics victory that decided who would face the Detroit Pistons in the Conference Finals, The Truth and LeBron went head-to-head in one of the greatest duels the league’s storied history, with the two stars scoring nearly half of their team’s points.
Pierce, who finished with 41 points on 13-of-23 shooting, was an unstoppable force for the entirety of the game, both defending James on one end and killing the Cavs on the other as a walking bucket. The Cavs had a particularly hard time defending Pierce in the mid-range game, as The Truth found his spots at the elbows, regardless of who was guarding him.
“Today it was basically get the ball to Paul Pierce and get the hell out of the way,” Kevin Garnett said.
While the Celtics never trailed during the game, their lead was never particularly safe either, as James finished with 45 points on 14-of-29 shooting to drag the Cavaliers onto the brink of an upset victory.
“I had it going, LeBron had it going and we just didn’t let up,” The Truth said. “Neither one of us wanted our teams to lose.”
From the start, it became clear that both James and Pierce would be the primary weapons for their respective teams, with Pierce scoring 26 and James scoring 23 in the first half as the Celtics led by 10, 50-40.
The Cavaliers quickly closed that gap in the third quarter though, starting off with a 9-2 run and bringing the deficit to just five points after three, despite The Truth hitting on three of his five attempts in the quarter.
A steal and dunk by LeBron with 2:21 left to play had the Cavs cut the lead down to 89-88, the closest it had been all game.
It was then that Boston defensive specialist and bench big P.J. Brown etched his name into Celtics history as an unlikely hero, grabbing a key rebound off a James three try that would’ve given Cleveland its first lead. Brown immediately followed that up with a long two with 1:21 left to make it a three-point game once again. Brown finished a perfect 4-for-4 from the field off the bench, giving the Celtics a much-needed source of scoring next to Pierce.
The Celts weren’t out of the woods just yet though, as a jump ball was called on the other end with a minute left to play and the Cavs looking to tie the game back up. The Cavs were highly favored to win the jump ball with the seven-foot-three Zydrunas Ilgauskas taking on the six-foot-eight James Posey, but Paul Pierce once again came up with a winning play when he dove for a loose ball on the floor, winning possession and getting a timeout in the process. Laying on the hardwood floor while clutching the ball in his hands, Paul let out an emotional roar up to the rafters and there became a real sense that the Celtics were just moments away from a historic victory.
After a few possessions ending in free throws, Boston was back in control, however, a three by Sasha Pavlovic with 8.6 seconds remaining brought the Celtics lead back down to three. Despite pressure from Cleveland, Boston managed to get the ball into the hands of the Truth, and the Cavs fouled Pierce as soon as he got the ball, in the hopes that he might miss and give them one last chance at tying the game.
However, on the first attempt, the ball bounced straight in the air off the rim and, with the type of magic that can only be found in the Garden, miraculously fell through, drawing a sigh of relief and a smile from Paul as it once again became a two-score game. The Truth figured the late great Red Auerbach had something to do with his shooting luck at the line.
“The ghost of Red just looking over us,” Paul said. “I think he kind of tapped it in the right direction. It sort of put a smile on my face.”
With another missed three from LeBron on the other end, the Celtics punched their ticket to the Eastern Conference Finals after an incredible showdown between two great scorers. And while James may have been ousted despite his 45-point game, even he acknowledged the magnitude of the matchup and its place in the history books.
“This will go down in history,” James said.