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.
In the No. 3, we re-lived Paul’s epic duel with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in a Game 7 that paved the way for Boston’s first NBA championship since 1986.
Checking in at the runner-up spot, we once again look back at that 2007-08 postseason, where The Truth dropped 38 points in Game 5 of the NBA Finals against the LA Lakers.
Despite Paul’s Epic Evening, Celtics Can’t Close Out Lakers
Paul Pierce wasn’t happy with his performance in Game 5 of the 2008 NBA Finals. How could he be — the Celtics lost the game and missed a chance to closeout a championship coronation.
But while Paul’s path to Finals MVP was crafted through strong performances in each of Boston’s four Finals wins. It was likely cinched up by the fact that, even in defeat, The Truth was the best player on the floor during the series.
Game 5 was a perfect example.
The Celtics had a chance to close out the Lakers with a Gentleman’s sweep of sorts, in Game 5 on LA’s home court, what would be a hometown coronation for The Truth. And with another game going down to the wire after a dominant start by the home team, the Lakers and Celtics felt a strange sense of déjà vu late in the fourth quarter.
Just three days earlier, Boston rallied from a 24-point deficit to steal Game 4 at the Staples Center and take a 3-1 series lead. Now, the Lakers were once again on the edge of a monumental collapse on the biggest stage in basketball.
LA’s 19-point first half lead quickly withered away as Paul led a furious second half rally. The Truth played all but two seconds of the game, a performance for the ages that saw No. 34 score 38 points to go along with six rebounds and eight assists while also defending Kobe Bryant on the defensive end.
However, The Truth’s masterful showing wasn’t enough to close out Bryant and a resilient Los Angeles squad, as it was the Lakers who took Game 5 with a 103-98 victory that sent the series back to Boston for Game 6.
Led by Bryant’s 25 points, the Lakers had four starters in double figures while the Celtics were led by Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who added a 13-point, 14-rebound double-double.
Like in Game 4, LA jumped out to a massive lead in the opening frame, taking a 17-point lead into the second quarter and extending it to 19 in the second. Boston didn’t let that early punch take them down too easily, and fought back to make it just a three-point halftime deficit thanks to a dominant 16-point second quarter from The Truth, where he hit six of his nine attempts from the field. It wouldn’t take long for the Celtics to take their first lead of the game in the second half, as they went up 58-57 on a Pierce free throw two minutes into the third quarter.
The game was a knock-down, drag-out affair from there. A Lakers run late in the third to gave them a nine-point cushion going into the fourth, and they’d extend that lead to 12 with nine minutes left to play. But with momentum swinging in LA’s favor, the Celtics found an unlikely hero in veteran bench contributor Sam Cassell, who scored seven straight points and led a massive 16-2 run in a four-minute span to tie the game up 90-90 with 4:35 left to play. The Lakers also struggled stopping Pierce in the fourth. Paul scored 12 fourth-quarter points and went a perfect 10-of-10 from the line while delivering tough defense on the other end.
The Lakers hung onto a one-score lead the rest of the way, but the Celtics were nearly on the doorstep of another historic comeback. After a pair of free throws from Pierce to make it a two-point game, 97-95 Lakers, the Celtics made a crucial stop on the defensive end that resulted in a Pierce rebound, but Boston’s chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession would never come as Bryant forced a turnover that led to a dunk to make it a two-score game with 37 seconds left.
Eddie House was able to keep hope alive with 14 seconds left after a deep three cut LA’s lead down to three again. House nearly stole the following Lakers inbounds, but the Lakers managed to hold onto the ball long enough for a desperation foul from the Celtics, effectively ending their comeback bid.
With the series heading back to The Garden for Game 6, the Celtics had two more chances to end the series and claim their 17th championship, and two days later in Boston they did just that, with Truth hoisting both the Larry O’ Brien trophy and the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP award on his home court.