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Paul Pierce cuts off Lakers at the pass

His leaping grab on a critical inbounds play and ensuing assist to Rajon Rondo helps seal Game 5 win for the Celtics.

June 13, 2010|By Baxter Holmes

Reporting from Boston -- Paul Pierce snatched the lofted pass of desperation and then danced along the sideline's edge, one wrong step from a costly turnover. Derek Fisher flopped and flailed beside him, which wasn't helping.

And in a crucial instant, with the clock inside of a minute and his team up only five points, Pierce's instincts took over. Off-balance though he was, a green blur racing downcourt caught his vision, and Pierce fired.

The pass was perfect, catching Rajon Rondo in stride, and Rondo sailed in for an easy layup, the dagger in Boston's 92-86 win in Sunday's Game 5.

"I was just showing off my Randy Moss and my Tom Brady in one play, that's all," Pierce said. "Going up to catch it, then I went to my Brady mode when I was falling out of bounds to find Rondo on the receiving end."

Patriots Coach Bill Belichick sat along the baseline. If it was an audition, Pierce might get a callback.

"Paul has said all year that he could play for the Patriots, and maybe we might have to believe him," Celtics Coach Doc Rivers said.

The play capped a brilliant night for Pierce — 27 points, his best performance of this Finals — and the Celtics needed such a performance with Kobe Bryant scoring 38 points.

"The captain came to the ship today," Celtics center Kendrick Perkins said. "He came to play, honestly. Any time Kobe or the Lakers made a play, he came down and hit a big shot. The tough shots, he was hitting. And that's what we need out of him."

Pierce provided answers to Bryant, especially in the third quarter, when Bryant scored his team's first 19 points. Pierce, mostly hitting step-back jumpers, put in nine points in the first five minutes of the quarter, and the Celtics' never lost the lead.

"I wasn't in no personal duel with him," Pierce said. "I really didn't even take the notice that we were going, I guess, back and forth at the time."

Many had predicted that Bryant was due to go off for a huge game. Few had said the same about Pierce. Thankfully for the Celtics, both occurred on the same night.

"Paul was great," Ray Allen said. "He was great early and often. He attacked all game long."

Pierce said he had come out and tried to be aggressive from the tip. He flowed through the Celtics' offense and took advantage of several pick-and-roll plays.

"He has a great rhythm right now, and we need it," Rivers said.

With Game 6 back in Pierce's old stomping grounds, that much seems certain. But the thought of winning a title in Los Angeles has yet to cross the Inglewood native's mind.

"I mean, that would be great," Pierce said. "I'm not going to try to jinx it right now. We've got to win one game, that's the goal. But it would be amazing if we get it done."

baxter.holmes@latimes.com

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