It'd be overly simplistic to say that this sequence — this crazy, ridiculous sequence — determined the fate of Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals, a back-and-forth affair that ended with the Boston Celtics winning their third straight game after being left for dead in an 0-2 hole, just as the Oklahoma City Thunder did one night earlier. Plenty of other plays contributed to that, too, including one doozy by Paul Pierce with just under a minute left in the proceedings.
But considering its context, it wouldn't be unfair to say it turned the tide at the midway point of the fourth quarter, when the game hung in the balance, and at least preserved Boston's chance to leave AmericanAirlines Arena up with a 3-2 series lead.
Boston overcame a dismal 6-for-20 (30 percent) mark from the floor in the first quarter, harassing Miami into an even worse 12 for 42 (28.6 percent) from the field during the second and third quarters while getting just unstuck enough to take a 65-60 lead into the final 12 minutes. The Heat bounced back, though, going on an 18-7 run through the first 5:44 of the frame behind 15 combined points from stars Dwyane Wade and LeBron James to take a 78-72 lead. Stretches like that can spell trouble for this Boston team, which so frequently seems to struggle to get good looks and has to keep you within arm's reach to work its unique form of dirty boxing.
After Wade finished a drive with a layup to extend the Heat lead to six, Boston needed a bucket to stay within hailing distance. Rajon Rondo dribbled across the timeline on the left-hand side of the court, where he got a screen on defender Mario Chalmers from big man Brandon Bass. Chalmers went over the top of the pick, which Miami (kind of) switched, leaving Chalmers trailing Rondo and Udonis Haslem head-up on the Celtics point guard while his man, Bass, cut hard to the rim and presented a big, willing target. (Bass did great little stuff like this all night; his stat line — 10 points on eight shots, four rebounds, two steals and a block — doesn't do justice to his sharp, active 30-minute performance.)
Rondo, naturally, found the cutter, and when nominal help defender James Jones overshot the play and failed to offer any help, Bass was in. All that stood between him and a thunderous dunk was Wade, the best shot-blocking guard in the league and, I think, the best ever. Wade stood tall, delivering a picturesque and total rejection that my colleague Eric Freeman said "belongs in a museum."
At that moment — with Boston starting to look tired, having missed five straight shots and allowing Miami to slip out of the straightjacket, and the Heat getting the running game going, using their athletic advantages to overpower Boston's game-planning and execution — Wade's fantastic block seemed like a game-defining moment. It wasn't hard to see that six-point lead hitting double figures in the minutes ahead behind a couple more fast-break buckets because, well, that's what Miami does.
But then, the ball bounced funny, and right to Rondo, who's something of a nexus point for weird bounces. The carom from Wade's block reached all the way to the free-throw line, where Rondo not only beat James and Chalmers for the jump ball, but also redirected it perfectly into the shooting pocket of Mickael Pietrus, wide-open behind the 3-point line in the right-hand corner. (It really did seem like every time Boston needed a hustle play, a bit of random chance or a moment of luck on Tuesday night, it came from Rondo, which, I'll grant, seems odd considering he missed 12 shots and turned it over five times.) Despite shooting just 26.9 percent on corner threes this postseason, just 1 of 6 from the corners through the first four games of this series and missing both 3-pointers he'd taken on Tuesday night, Pietrus didn't hesitate.
The nine-year veteran rose, fired and knocked it down, cutting the Miami lead to 78-75, keeping Boston within one possession. More importantly, he completely reversed the momentum of Wade's block, putting the pressure back on a Heat team that seemed to feel like it was almost free. After Pietrus' three, they knew they weren't. Boston outscored Miami 19-12 in the final six minutes to close out the game and head home with a 3-2 lead and a chance to win the Eastern Conference at the TD Garden in Game 6 on Thursday.
The scramble-drill long ball was one of several big plays turned in Tuesday night by Pietrus. The mercurial, often difficult-to-rely-on swingman scored 13 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including two big fourth-quarter 3-pointers (he hit another to put Boston up 85-83 with 2:11 left; they'd never trail again), to go with three rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes. It was his biggest performance in a Celtic uniform, one that saw him stand alongside Hall of Famers and All-Stars, as part of what amounted to a six-man rotation for most of Game 5, and deliver.
During a rare visit to the podium to join Rondo and Paul Pierce for the Celtics' postgame press conference, Pietrus cited words of inspiration SMS'd his way on Monday by the man who gave Pierce his nickname.
"You know, yesterday I got a text from Shaq, who was telling me, 'Keep believing and keep playing,' so that's what I did," Pietrus said. "And when Rondo took that rebound and kicked it out to me, I knew I could take a shot and make it, so that's what I did."
So that's what he did, and while it didn't decide the game, it did keep the game in a place where the Celtics could decide it. Sometimes, that's just as important.
One last note on Pietrus: As WEEI.com's Ben Rohrbach reminded his Twitter followers after Game 5, Pietrus guaranteed a Celtics championship back at the start of March, when Boston was 18-17 and being fitted for coffins by those of us who write pathetic articles and offer lousy analysis. Pietrus and company are still a long way from Banner 18, but as you watch this Celtics team keep grinding it out, that off-the-cuff proclamation makes you wonder if one of the NBA's most notorious space cadets is actually crazy like a fox.
Is the clip above not working for you? Feel free to check out the chaos elsewhere, thanks to My Sternum Hurts, which is probably something scores of fans of both sides said multiple times on Tuesday night.