Paul Pierce has made a career out of driving to the hoop with sufficient herky-jerk motion to draw the foul and get himself to the free-throw lane. He has shot more free throws and made more free throws than anyone else in Celtics history. So it was only fitting that it was at the free-throw line where Paul Pierce put himself in the history books on Wednesday night. With 13 seconds left in overtime, Pierce’s first of two free throws made him only the third player in Celtics history to score 20,000 or more points. Pierce’s 28 points- including 12 in overtime- powered the Celtics past the Milwaukee Bucks, 105-102 in overtime at the TD Garden.
Pierce’s 28 points, brought his career total to 20,005. He ranks third behind John Havlicek (26,395) and Larry Bird (21,791). With four more years under contract with Celtics, and averaging 22.5 points per game, he still has an outside shot to retire with the most points in Celtics history.
The Celtics had been playing poorly up until late in the fourth quarter, getting outscored 47-37 in the second or third quarter, mainly due to little offensive production from their bench. However, down 82-77 with 2:30 left in the fourth quarter, Kevin Garnett dunked a pass from Rajon Rondo and was fouled by Bucks center Andrew Bogut, who finished the night with 21 points and 13 rebounds (six offensive). Elbows flew, as they often do when Garnett is involved, and double-technical fouls were issued to Garnett and Bogut. Garnett sank his free throw, cutting the lead to 82-80 and kick-starting a 13-2 run.
After Garnett made his free throw, Rondo caught a defensive rebound and then found Pierce for the basket and a foul. Pierce made the and-1, giving the Celtics an 83-82 lead, a lead which they would build to as many as six points before the Bucks eventually tied the score again at 91-91. The game went to overtime after Rondo missed a last-second jumper from 19 feet.
The Celtics and Bucks traded points through the first four minutes of overtime, but the Celtics took a 99-95 lead with 1:08 left. This four point lead forced the Bucks to play catch-up for the final minute, fouling the Celtics on every subsequent possession in the hope that they might miss a free throw. However, Pierce sank eight consecutive free throws in overtime as part of his perfect 11-11 shooting from the line, and the Celtics were content to foul the Bucks to prevent them from getting three-point shots. Marquis Daniels deflected the Bucks’ last inbound pass, and the game was over.
Rondo scored 17 points Wednesday night were not spectacular, but his 15 assists were. The ball would come out of his hands so fast that it appeared to be by luck that they found waiting Celtics. But every replay showed his eyes pointed exactly where he wanted the ball to go. Sometimes he would fake a pass, bring it back, then pass it again. Sometimes he would pass while spinning. Sometimes he would pass while in the air. But he always found his target, setting up key play after key play, including 3-pointer by Ray Allen (23 points) as the first quarter expired. He already has 82 assists, most in the first five games of a season in NBA history.
Though the Celtics got little contribution from the bench, the lone exception was Glen Davis, who scored 14 points off and collected four rebounds in 34 minutes off the bench. He continues to contribute on both ends of the court, taking charges on defense while draining shots from 17 feet on offense. He was also perfect at the line, going 4-4, but he fouled out in overtime, forcing Garnett to play center for the final 1:38 after Jermaine O’Neal fouled out as well.
Defensively, the Celtics continued to struggle to rebound, giving many contested shots back to the Bucks. The Celtics gave up 13 offensive rebounds, leading to 16 second-chance points for the Bucks, though the Celtics won the overall rebounds battle 43-42. The only offensive rebounding threat for the Celtics was Rondo, who had three, all of which generated points (including some by Rondo himself). Rondo also had three steals and a blocked shot, though he turned the ball over on the ensuing possession.
The Celtics will now enjoy an off-day before taking on the always-pesky Chicago Bulls. The Bulls will be playing their second game of a back-to-back, so the difference in rest should help Boston out in a game that will likely feature the high-energy, high-speed style of the young Chicago squad.