In the final minute of a tightly contested game between the Boston Celtics and Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City on Monday, Celtics captain Paul Pierce did what he's been doing for, oh, about 15 years now — going one-on-one against a wing defender (in this case, Utah's DeMarre Carroll) and then herky-jerking his way to the elbow, getting said defender off-balance, leaning back and burying a deflating jumper to put Boston ahead with 36.6 seconds left to play. Typical stuff, really.
But thanks to some pretty uncommon poise from young Jazzmen Gordon Hayward, who rebounded from a bad pass and near turnover to beat Brandon Bass off the dribble into the paint, and Alec Burks, who made a perfectly timed cut from the left wing to give Hayward a passing target and finished a tough lefty layup around Kevin Garnett to tie the game at 97 with 19.9 ticks left, Pierce's jumper wasn't Boston's hoped-for dagger ... and with Carroll all over him on the Celtics' final possession, Pierce's subsequent attempt at a buzzer-beater rimmed in-and-out. Utah had escaped "The Truth" in regulation.
Unfortunately, that meant overtime.
Pierce scored seven straight points in the extra session, turning a two-point deficit at the 2:48 mark into a five-point lead with 1:12 remaining, and Boston hung on for a 110-107 overtime victory at EnergySolutions Arena in what Celtics coach Doc Rivers called "the best win of the year for me."
Pierce finished with a Boston-high 26 points on 10 for 20 shooting, eight assists and seven rebounds in 39 minutes, and told reporters — including Baxter Holmes of the Boston Globe — that after four tough quarters against the Jazz on the second night of a back-to-back following a tough loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Sunday, he entered overtime with one goal in mind: "To try to get this thing over with."
“Usually, in overtime on long road trips, you can just give in,” said Pierce [...] “This team just showed tremendous fight, dug in and did what it had to do.”
More from Pierce, via Lynn DeBruin of The Associated Press:
"We knew this was probably going to be the toughest game for us physically and mentally," Pierce said. "Talking about a long road trip, coming in to one of the toughest places to play. We felt we could salvage this trip with a win here. So guys did a good job of just being mentally tough, digging in and doing what we had to do to get the win."
That included an incredibly heady play in the closing seconds by veteran center Garnett.
After Utah triggered an inbounds pass trailing 108-105 with 11.8 seconds left in overtime, Hayward (who led Utah with 26 points on 7 for 16 shooting off the bench) drove the lane, drawing a rotating Brandon Bass, which left Utah center Al Jefferson open at the top of the key. Hayward's pass was just a bit off, though, allowing Boston guard Avery Bradley to recover to pressure the ball, forcing a swing to guard Randy Foye, a 41.5 percent 3-point shooter who was blanketed by Celtics defender Courtney Lee and unable to get his shot off. (By the way: Tick-tock, tick-tock.)
Foye fired the ball to the corner, where Jazz forward Paul Millsap stood ready to fire a potential game-tying corner 3-point attempt ... except that Garnett's closeout came just in the nick of time, forcing Millsap to put the ball on the floor and take a step inside the 3-point line, at which point the crafty Garnett wrapped him up, sending Millsap to the foul line — but only for two shots — with just 4.2 seconds remaining. Millsap made them both to cut Boston's lead to 108-107, but Lee made his pair after a Utah foul to extend the clock and Foye's last-gasp try couldn't connect; as a result, a strong defensive possession capped by a smart, perfectly timed foul won the day for the guys in green.
It was a great end to a strong OT period for Garnett, who kicked things off with a rebound of a Hayward miss and a 19-footer to break the 97-all tie ... and did so, apparently, after shrugging off Rivers' attempt to give the 36-year-old big man a rest at the start of the frame, according to Mark Murphy of the Boston Herald:
“He just told me I was going to sit the first couple of minutes and I wasn’t comfortable with that,” Garnett said. “I didn’t overrule him, but he trusted what I was saying, and it worked out.”
“[...] But playing against a tough team in a tough place to play, where they’re fighting for something just like we’re fighting for something, you put all of it on the line. It wasn’t an easy game at all.”
Relatively little has been easy for a Celtics team that was watched Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa go down for the season due to injury, but thanks to their two veteran leaders, they still had enough to finish their five-game road trip with a win, heading home from the West Coast with a 2-3 record and a 30-27 mark overall, keeping them 2 1/2 games back of the sixth-seeded Chicago Bulls and 2 1/2 games ahead of the eighth-seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Video via our friends at the NBA.