With 6:49 remaining on the game clock in the 3rd quarter Thursday night, the TD Banknorth Garden grew very quiet. It was an awkward silence that sent chills down the spines of onlookers all around the city. Paul Pierce, the Celtics fearless leader, was down for the count with what appeared to be a serious knee injury and it didn’t look like he’d be getting up anytime soon. Boston fans feared the worst and knew that without ‘The Truth’ the 11th finals match up between Boston and Los Angeles was all but over.
As if scripted out of a Rocky movie, not only did Pierce get up when everyone knew he was in serious anguish, he delivered the knockout like blow by nailing back to back 3-point field goals in a 22-second span late in the 3rd quarter that gave the Boston Celtics the lead for good en route to their 98-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals.
The storied match up between the two most successful franchises in NBA history lived up to everything you thought it would in a game that featured 12 ties and 21 lead changes. With future hall-of-famers up and down both line ups, the excitement of fans was reminiscent to only that of Game 1 of the 2004 MLB World Series.
“I think this is a great thing not just for the NBA, but just for sports in general,” Lakers guard Derek Fisher said. “I think it’s a great thing when the best gets a chance to compete against the best, and whoever comes out on top, they earned it. I think both teams should be proud to be here.”
Fisher led the Lakers to a 51-46 first half lead scoring 13 points by the break but would only finish the 15 points on the night. His stat line was very similar to that of Rajon Rondo of the Celtics. Both PG’s finished with 15 points, while Rondo notched 7 assists compared to Fisher’s 6. Rondo would also one-upped Fisher in the rebound category grabbing 5, one more then Fisher’s 4 boards.
Kobe Bryant, the NBA’s reigning MVP, was held to 24 points on a 9-26 shooting performance. The majority of his shots were good looks that just weren’t going down. Ray Allen and Pierce both did an excellent job of trying to always have one hand in his face, limiting the wide open looks that the superstar knocks down with ease.
Besides Pierce’s heroic performance of 22 points (19 in the 2nd half), Kevin Garnett contributed to the win in a big way. KG recorded his 12th double-double of the ’08 playoffs scoring 24 points and grabbing 13 rebounds. He slammed home the victory with an emphatic dunk off of a James Posey miss that brought the Garden crowd to their feet with 1:32 to play in the game and gave the Celtics their largest lead at the time putting them ahead 94-86.
Rounding out the ‘Big Three’, Allen also hit some clutch shots and finished with 19 points and 8 rebounds, but the big story on the night was still how Pierce managed to single handedly rejuvenate his team and home town crowd, making them all believers that Boston can win this series.
As Pierce jogged onto the court from the locker room with a black elastic wrap on his injured knee, Garnett clinched a fist and screamed, “Yes!”
“He was walking, he was up on his own strength and he rejuvenated us,” said Garnett, “He gave everybody life.”
Bottom line, Pierce’s performance was gutsy and will go down as just another magical moment to add to the countless number of highlights that already exist in the Celtics vs. Lakers finals rivalry. Shots of him being carried off the floor by teammates, to then only minutes later walk right past coach Doc Rivers to check himself back into the game will air next to those of Magic Johnson’s baby hook shot or Kevin McHale’s clothesline of Kurt Rambis in a montage that will remind generation after generation just how exciting this rivalry really is.
“I think God sent an angel down and said, ‘Hey you’re going to be all right. You need to get back out there’,” Pierce said.
There’s a very good chance that angel may have very well been smoking a cigar and the Celtics biggest fan.
Thanks Red, hope you’re enjoying the best seats in the house.