Is there anything more intensely satisfying in the world of athletics than “The Dagger”?
Nailing the coffin shut. Slamming the door. Put her in the old refrigerator…whatever you want to call it, the moment that you realize that your team just nailed down a win is perhaps the most intense moment in sports…
…so when Paul Pierce nailed a three pointer from the parking lot with 2.5 seconds left in Sunday’s matinee with the Los Angeles Clippers, the entire New England region stood with clinched fists overhead, letting the shower of cold chills run down their collective spine – because there is nothing else quite like it.
Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points, none bigger than the three to seal the win. Clippers’ Coach Vinnie Del Negro Electing not to foul with 27 seconds left in the game, Pierce held onto the ball on the left wing running the clock and keeping Clippers forward Matt Barnes at bay with an elbow planted in his ribs – when Barnes suddenly backed off and Pierce stepped back behind the arc and fired…
…the drama set up by a clutch defensive play by – who else – Avery Bradley, taking a Jamal Crawford shoulder in the chest and drawing a charge at the top of the key as Crawford tried to drive past Bradley to the hole. The ball went in but the refs were pointing towards the Celtics’ goal.
Jason Terry, Jeff Green and Leandro Barbosa each scored in double figures for a Celtics’ bench that outscored the Clippers’ reserves by an astounding 52-29 margin, highlighting the depth that the Celtics possess and demonstrating the differences in each team’s style.
Each team was playing without their All Star point guards, both out with bum knees – Rajon Rondo, of course, is out for the season with a torn ACL while Clippers’ floor general Chris Paul is day to day with a bruised kneecap.
Eric Bledsoe led the Clippers in scoring in Paul’s stead, dropping in a game high 23 go go along with 7 boards and 10 assists. Crawford chipped in with 23 as well and Blake Griffin added 20 points and pulled down a game high 11 boards despite having Celtics’ Kevin Garnett hounding him all game.
It got so rough underneath that Garnett was finally called for a technical foul for throwing elbows into Griffin’s chest and the two had to be separated…a common scene when it comes to the intense Garnett and his hard play under the rim.
Leading by 19 at the half and by 15 going into the fourth quarter, the Celtics suddenly went ice cold.
Up 15 with 9:48 to go, the Celtics went over six minutes without a field goal and the Clippers took advantage of seven turnovers with a 15-3 run to trim the Boston lead to three points with just under 3 minutes to play.
Jason Terry broke the spell with a 15 foot pull-up jumper that put Boston on top 103-98 with just over a minute remaining, but a Bledsoe 3-pointer made it a two-point game, setting up Bradley’s and Pierce’s heroics.
The 34-15 Clippers have no time to lick their wounds over dropping this one as they have to catch a short hopper to the nation’s capital to take on the Wizards tomorrow night before traveling to Orlando for a Wednesday night matchup with the Magic while the 24-23 Celtics get a little time to savor their winning streak before taking a short trip to Toronto for a tip off with the Raptors on Wednesday night before returning to Boston to host the Lakers on Thursday.
So the measuring stick game against one of the best of the west taught us that the Celtics may experience their ups and downs as coach Doc Rivers finds balance and matchups which favor his team, but it also showed us that this mentally tough team has what it takes to find a way…
…and that should give pause to the rumors of the Celtics’ demise without their All Star point guard.