Before 2002, the last time the Boston Celtics made the postseason, Kevin Garnett was donning a royal blue and yellow Farragut Academy jersey. Beantown’s trip to the 2002 NBA Playoffs ended a six-year drought in which the Cs failed to both get out of the lottery and reincarnate Larry Bird. It also marked the first time that franchise cornerstone Paul Pierce had played past the 82-game mark in Boston.
After defeating Philadelphia and Detroit in the first two rounds, the Green ran into Jason Kidd and the top-seeded New Jersey Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Coming into this game, the series was tied at one a piece. New Jersey entered the fourth quarter of Game 3 with a 21-point lead – a feat that no team had overcome in playoff history. With the all-time NBA record being 171-0 for teams leading by 19 points entering the final quarter, the odds were not in Boston’s favor. However, conquering the impossible is something that is forever embedded into the DNA of Celtic greats.
At the end of the third, The Truth’s partner in crime — Antoine Walker — let Pierce know what he thought about the past three quarters by using a few choice words. Whatever message ‘Toine communicated apparently worked because The Truth didn’t miss again from the field.
A struggling Pierce (who had gone 2-for-14 prior to the final quarter) found his sweet spot early in the fourth, driving left on the baseline past Richard Jefferson for three straight buckets. Suddenly it was raining “Tommy Points.”
The next time down, Pierce stayed within his comfort zone, catching the entry pass on the left wing of the Fleet Center’s parquet. Instead of driving baseline, Double-P jabbed left and spun middle on Kerry Kittles as he continued on his scoring rampage. Free throws from Walker and Celtics forward Rodney Rogers narrowed the margin.
The captain continued working at the rim, scoring twice more before fouling out Kenyon Martin with the Celtics down one. With ice water in his veins, Pierce knocked down both free throws with under a minute left, giving the Celts their first lead since 1-0.
On New Jersey’s next offensive possession, Walker blocked a Keith Van Horn three-point attempt that was rebounded by Pierce, who went back to the charity stripe with 17.6 seconds remaining.
After hitting the second, Pierce gave Boston a four-point cushion that would be finalized seconds later as the Celtics secured the 94-90 victory. In a comeback that saw Paul Pierce score 19 of his 28 points in the final 12 minutes, this epic moment in Celtics history would go down as one of the greatest fourth quarter turnarounds in playoff history.
Somewhere Tommy Heinsohn was screaming “I LOVE WALTAH!” Even if Walter McCarty didn’t score that night.
Was this a better comeback than last season’s Clips/Grizzlies playoff game?
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