Paul Pierce knows how to make plays when the chips are down. That is what he has done for years and years.
This moment would be no different.
Twice he found a way to crush the Magic and put away a game where the Celtics just could not put it away. Not until the end. Not until Paul Pierce laid down The Truth.
And Pierce showed that, while the Magic might be a grittier, harder working team with Dwight Howard out of the lineup for the moment, they might still be missing that final piece. That one closing kick to make something out of nothing. That is what Orlando has been missing all year on this roster. Still, it is amazing when Pierce does it still.
His first play was an airball that bounced right into the waiting hands of Brandon Bass for a put back that gave the Celtics a five point lead. It completed a five-point swing that could only happen because Jameer Nelson and J.J. Redick missed open shots — the kind of good looks the offense is supposed to generate.
Orlando continued to fight. Glen Davis stole the ball from Kevin Garnett at the top of the key with a four-point deficit and dunked the ball with 32 seconds left — enough time to play strong defense and get the ball with enough time to win the game.
The ball was going to Paul Pierce and everyone knew it. Pierce got the switch to Glen Davis on the pick and roll and he worked his way to the elbow, rising over Davis (who did a good job defensively on the play). The shot, of course, went in. The Celtics held off the Magic for a 102-98 win.
But another truth was discovered. Something in this Magic team is clicking.
Orlando was down 11 points in the first quarter, giving up 70 percent shooting and looking like a team that could keep up for a little while but would fall too far behind when the first cold streak came. Defensive rotations were late and Boston’s defense suffocated Orlando’s constant pick and rolls. The Magic at times could not handle the pressure.
But the team fought back.
Glen Davis had 12 of his 27 points in the first quarter. Davis was very motivated to attack and score against his former team. He had a great game in his return from a bruised knee suffered Sunday. He made 12 of his 16 shots and spent a lot of time rolling hard to the basket on pick and rolls and forcing Kevin Garnett into tougher fade-away jump shots.
Jameer Nelson was the one who keyed two runs in the second and fourth quarter to erase those double-digit deficits. Nelson scored 21 points and nine asissts. His 3-pointer midway through the second quarter, Orlando’s first field goal from outside the paint, opened the door and got the ball rolling. From there, the Magic played with a higher level of confidence and began to believe they could beat the Celtics.
And there was no quitting from that point.
This version of the Magic can be quite good. But the margin of error is pretty small.
Orlando got an astounding 54 points in the paint — without Dwight Howard, mind you — and fought hard on the boards with 17 offensive rebounds. The Magic got to the line 30 times. But it was the things Orlando did not do that cost the team this game.
It was the 10 missed free throws sprinkled throughout the game. It was the 16 turnovers. It was the poor defense throughout the game — the Celtics shot 54.3 percent and hit 23 of 27 free throws.
Paul Pierce had 29 points and a career-high 14 assists, many coming in the first half. Boston had the ball moving and flowing, pulling out to a 13-point lead early in the fourth quarter thanks to a 9-0 spurt to end the third quarter. It was that stretch that sent the Magic scrambling and clawing to get back into it.
Van Gundy said it best after the game. His team’s effort was there. Those little defensive details are not quite there and that is something the team will have to work on to end the season.
The last few games though have shown a level of effort and determination that it has not been able to show day in and day out this year.
This team needs its superstar back. But it needs him while the rest of the team plays with this much urgency and effort and this much motion and grit offensively. That might be the unfortunate truth.
The good news is that right now this team is playing hard. It looks like the team has purpose again. That might be the greatest truth. Now all they have to do is start winning.