It was the biggest play of the season. With 23 seconds to play in a tie game, Doc Rivers devised a brilliant play using Paul Pierce as a decoy/screen-setter to get Jeff Green wide open in the paint for the game winning layup. It was the biggest win of the season. On the second night of a back-to-back, on the road against a Pacers (38-23) team with the second-best record in the East, the Celtics (32-27) absolutely STOLE a win.
They were down 10 points at the start of the fourth quarter. They were down 9 with 4:35 to play after Paul George drained a three to put Indiana up 81-72. Of course they came back, of course they held the Pacers scoreless for the remainder of the game, and out-willed the number one rated defensive team (per Basketball-reference and all other known metrics) in a dog-fight, because that’s what everyone expected a group of tired, old veterans to do, right?
This win is so huge because it came as a shock to everyone. Even the C’s players, who were over matched by Indiana’s size most of the game and at one point were losing the battle in the paint by a margin of 44 points to 12. Yet there they were, suddenly in possession of the ball with the score tied at 81 and plenty of time left to stun the Conseco Fieldhouse by pulling off a comeback victory.
As he came out of the huddle Pierce was sporting an ear-to-ear grin. Perhaps it was because of how improbable their chances seemed even a few minutes earlier. Perhaps- and the Pacers might have believed this- it was because he felt supremely confident in his own ability to knock down a game winner. As it turns out, Pierce was likely smiling at the sheer genius of being used as a decoy.
Nearly every NBA game that comes down to the final possession ends with the star player taking a shot off an isolation set. However Doc Rivers, knowing that nearly every NBA game comes down to such a predictable set of circumstances, decided to tip the scales in Boston’s favor. He had the ball go to Garnett in the high-post, and designed the play so that it appeared Pierce was going to curl hard towards K.G. Instead of continuing with a motion that the Celtics have run time and time again, Pierce set a blind-side screen on David West, who completely forgot about Jeff Green, and Garnett found Green on a dive towards the basket.
In one instant the C’s veterans showed their toughness, their intelligence, and their ability to win at all costs. In essence, they showed why Danny Ainge was right to hold on to them for another run at the title. Sure there was an element of luck involved here. The Pacers saw a number of open three-point shots rim out as they went 6 for 27 from deep. Roy Hibbert was almost invisible during the second half, and Paul George did not play like the All-Star he’s become (7-22 from the field).
Combine those factors with the referee’s notable discretion when it came to calling fouls on both ends of the floor, and you had a game that devolved into a football scrum, or simply a contest of who wanted it more. On this night, it was clear that the team in green NEEDED it more, so they went out and took it. That’s four wins in a row for the never-say-die Celtics. They should be sky-high as they head home for a bout with the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, because on this night, they stole a victory from the jaws of defeat.