Your answer probably depends on which side of the country you live. Thursday night in Game 1 of the NBA Finals, the Celtics captain hit the deck with 6:49 left in the third quarter while defending a drive by Kobe Bryant. Pierce rolled around for a bit. The training staff came out. The requisite quiet fell over the Boston crowd. Pierce sat up. He straightened his legs. Then he was back down. And then he was carried from the court.
Ninety-three seconds of game time later, Pierce was back on the court, continuing to light it up in what would be a 15-point third quarter in which the Celtics seized the lead for good in their 98-88 win.
The Boston crowd, of course, went ga-ga when Pierce re-emerged from the locker room and went even nuttier when he re-entered the game with 5:04 left.
Asked about Pierce’s return, you could practically hear Phil Jackson’s eyes roll behind his glasses.
“You know, you don’t know what happens,” said Jackson. “Guys can break a shoelace and go out. The pants break down. Drawstring falls apart. You don't know what happens to guys. Pierce was back on the floor in three minutes, so he wasn’t that long out of the game. He came back and hit two threes. I think that was a big momentum change in the game.”
But the cheering … ?
“I mean, I don’t understand that,” Jackson said. “You have the fans cheer, but that’s overstated. What helped them out were those two threes that he hit, not coming back on the floor. There was a little momentum change before he even came onto the floor right there. I called a time out just to settle our guys down. They didn’t make good plays at that little span of the game. I thought hitting the threes were what was important.”
The Celtics hummed a far different tune.
“Obviously him coming back lifted us up,” said coach Doc Rivers.
“When he came back out, you just heard the roar of the crowd," said forward Kevin Garnett. "He was walking. He was up on his own strength. It rejuvenated us, I think to the point where he gave everybody life.”
Pierce said after the game he has a sprained meniscus. He heard a pop when he went down and “thought it was all over,” fearing he tore something. He said he doesn’t yet know if he’ll be ready for Sunday’s Game 2. He also said that, “I was like, 'Man, it can't be over like this.' You know, I think God must have sent an angel down and said, 'Hey, you're going to be all right. You need to be back out there. Show them what you've got."
He’s not at the level of a European soccer star, but Pierce has been known to emote a bit. After a playoff loss to Indiana back in 2005 from which Pierce was ejected in the final minutes, he appeared at a postgame press conference with a huge bandage on his head looking like Fred Flintstone trying to heal a toothache. The statement was that he’d been practically bludgeoned by the Pacers and that caused him to act out.
Pacers assassin Chuck Person recalled the moment Bird re-entered that game: “I thought, ‘Well, here’s the second coming.’ He definitely played ungodly the rest of the way. For a guy who could’ve broken his neck or fractured a jaw or something, he really came out and performed at a level he’s accustomed to playing at.”
So you have that backdrop to work with. And even if the level of disrepair Pierce suffered was in some dispute, what can’t be disputed is the fact he carried Boston in that third quarter.
Surprised he came back, some reporters asked Celtics reserve Brian Scalabrine, who helped lug Pierce off. “Frankly, I’m surprised he had to be carried off,” Scalabrine answered.
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