ATLANTA – Paul Pierce has never met New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow nor is Pierce a big fan of him. If Pierce roots for any NFL team, it's the New England Patriots.
And yet in the closing seconds of the Boston Celtics' gritty 87-80 victory over the Atlanta Hawks – after a performance that saw him spread 36 points and 14 rebounds over 44 minutes – Pierce couldn't help himself. He Tebowed. Twice.
“I’ve seen it on TV," Pierce said later. "I don’t know what inspired it. I don’t know why. I wasn’t thinking about it. It was instinctive.
“It’s just like I don’t know when I’m going to shoot a 3 or jumper. It was instincts.”
With All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo suspended and shooting guard Ray Allen still sidelined by an ankle injury, Boston coach Doc Rivers knew he had to stick to his own gut instinct: If the Celtics were to have any chance of evening the first-round playoff series, they would have to ride or die with Pierce leading them.
Rivers scripted the opening plays of the offense to go to Pierce, and Pierce responded by scoring the Celtics' first nine points. But it was how Pierce closed the game that delivered Boston its victory. Even though Pierce had labored with his shot most of the game and had already played 32 minutes after three quarters, Rivers kept his 34-year-old forward on the floor. When Pierce needed a breather, Rivers used his timeouts.
“I thought Doc was going to sit me at the beginning of the fourth," Pierce said. "But I probably would have told him to keep me in."
Pierce scored 13 points in the final quarter and gave the Celtics control of the game when he followed a fast-break dunk with a 3-pointer. After making a pair of free throws late in the game, he walked to center court and genuflected, mimicking Tebow's signature celebration. Pierce did it again in the final seconds.
“I didn’t know he did it,” said Rivers, whose daughter attended the University of Florida when Tebow was the Gators' quarterback. “… But if he did it that’s terrific as far as I’m concerned. I am a Florida native so I’ll take that.”
The Celtics received contributions from several players, but Pierce shouldered the biggest load. He nearly doubled his regular-season scoring average and played 10 minutes more than his nightly average. "To[o] old for this," Pierce tweeted after the game. "I need a bed right now!!!”
Rivers called Pierce "a monster."
“It ranks right up there when you factor no Ray, no Rondo,” Rivers said. “Literally, the only way we were going to win the game is if Paul played like that. He knew that. So did they. But he still did it. It showed you how special he is.”
Rondo will be back for Game 3, and the Celtics are still holding out hope Allen will return in the series. But on this night, Pierce nearly had to go it alone.
Said Pierce: “I felt like I had to do everything."
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