05/08/2012 - 13:45
In Closeout Games, Paul Is Indeed the Truth
Ryan Laughlin and the Paul Pierce Team
Both players and coaches will tell you the hardest game to win is the one that clinches a playoff series: the pressure is at its highest, and the opposing team is playing harder than ever to extend its season. It’s no coincidence these are the games where Paul Pierce shines the brightest too.
Over the course of his 13 year career, the Celtics captain has played in 24 closeout games, with a 25th coming up tonight in Atlanta. In the victories, he's scored an average of 24.6 points per game, 3 points higher than his career playoff average. And whenever Paul's looking to deliver a knockout punch at the TD Garden, he almost always connects; over the course of those 13 seasons, the C's are a whopping 9-1 in home games where an opponent faces playoff elimination.
With such an imposing record at home, some players might decide to take tonight's game off; after all, teams with 3-1 leads in NBA playoff series go on to win the series 95% of the time. But Paul knows better.
"The NBA is a weird league," Paul said after he and the C's pushed the Hawks to the brink of elimination. "One game could give a team confidence. We hope that we can just take them and advance in the series this next game."
"You don’t want to give a team any confidence," Pierce continued. "You've got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset."
Through the first four games of this series, Paul has been exceptionally focused. His 23.3 points per game is the highest for either team by a healthy margin, and once again, mental preparation will be key tonight. Nobody, especially coach Doc Rivers, is looking past tonight’s Game 5.
"You've got to just take them one at a time. Go out and play your best," Rivers said. "If you win it, then you move on. Never look at the finish line; never even talk about the finish line.
"You talk about the next game, and just playing well. Your play will take care of that, and if it doesn’t, you’ve got to play the next game. So, obviously it’s important if we won, but we’ve just got to stay single-game focused."
Given the circumstances, it's a given that Paul will be.
Did You Know?
Paul’s career high in closeout games is a whopping 46 points! In a win-or-go-home Game 5 versus the Philadelphia 76ers in 2002, outgunned the reigning scoring champ Allen Iverson, who only managed 31 points. In that game, Paul’s 14 first quarter points set the tone as the Celtics cruised to victory, and set them on a path all the way to the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals.