Celtics edge Knicks on Pierce's shot
When it comes down to it, every basketball coach on earth has the same game plan for the final seconds of a close game: You get the ball to your crunch-time scorer, you get him one good look, and you pray it goes in.
Wednesday night's showdown between the Celtics and the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden came down to a last-second duel — two great coaches, two great scorers, two great teams with winning streaks on the line.
In the final moments, Paul Pierce stepped back and knocked down a beautiful fadeaway jumper over Amare Stoudemire to give the C's a 118-116 edge with four-tenths of a second left, just as coach Doc Rivers had drawn it up.
Knicks mastermind Mike D'Antoni had time for one more play — and sure enough, he got the ball to his star for one last shot at a game-winner. Stoudemire, who'd scored 39 points, swished a three at the buzzer, but it was a split-second too late.
Both teams got brilliant clutch shots from their brilliant clutch shooters. Only one counted, and the Celtics eked out a win, extending their streak to 11 games.
They don't get much closer than that.
"I thought it was no good," Rivers said of the Stoudemire shot. "I just thought there's no way you can catch it and turn it with point-four on the clock. But I wasn't sure. But then I looked over at Mike Breen and Walt Frazier, and they were the Knick announcers and they said no good, so I thought we were in pretty good shape."
Upon further review, Rivers and the MSG broadcasting team both were proven right — Stoudemire still had the ball in his hands as the clock hit zeroes.
Just seconds earlier, the shoe had been on the other foot, with the Celtics having one last shot at a game-winner. Pierce nailed it as he's done countless times before, putting the Celtics in control and capping his 32-point night.
"I didn't have any doubt he was going to take the shot. I just didn't know if he was going to make it.," Rivers said. "But you always put the ball in your best player's hands, and the best players, for the most part, they get to their spot. The guys on the bench were laughing — they were all saying, 'Right side, right there.' They knew where he was going. He always has that step-back — it's a tough shot."
The night belonged to the duel between Stoudemire and Pierce. There were great performances from the supporting stars — Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen for Boston, Raymond Felton and Danilo Gallinari for the Knicks — but the game came down to the two captains in the end.
Pierce was 10 of 18 from the field and 10 of 10 from the line. He had 10 rebounds, four assists and two steals. On paper, Stoudemire outdueled him, matching his season high in scoring. But letting Stoudemire get his was Boston's game plan all along.
"We were fine," Rivers said. "We didn't mind his points. We honestly didn't. Even in the first half, when Stoudemire was scoring, it didn't bother us at all. What bothered us was the loose balls, the offensive rebounds, the drive-bys by their other players. That got us far more upset.
"Amare, we guarded him one-on-one all game, and if he was going to score 50, he was going to score 50. But our plan was to stop everybody else, and I didn't think we did that very well."