The NBA has tons of good shooters but few are straight assassins with the game on the line. You know what I mean. The opponent who rises up for a jumper and before he releases it has you closing your eyes and yelling, "NOOOOOO!!!" And the tighter the game, the fewer seconds left on the clock, the closer the defender is with a hand in his face, the more you know from the tip of your brain to the depths of your heart, that the ball is going in and there's nothing you or anyone else in the building can do about it.
One cold-blooded shooter like that can carry an otherwise good team to many a great W. Reggie Miller proved that time after time and oh, how it was fun to have that ace up the sleeve late in the fourth.
So having one crowd-silencing, heart-shredding shooter is sporting, and certainly makes the game a thrill for both sides. There's one guy to stop and while he expects to and usually does deliver the game winner, every once in a while he comes up short, or long, and sends the opposing fans home happy.
But for a team like the Boston Celtics to have two late-game dagger throwers is actually cruel. What I witnessed last night from Ray Allen and Paul Pierce was as beautiful as anything I've seen in basketball, yet I still feel violated by the way they shot that game into overtime and then casually left the Fieldhouse with a W.
Ray Allen had it going all night, scoring 35 points including 7 of 12 from 3-land. Every time the Pacers tried to surge ahead and expand their lead, Allen would strike like a cobra, putting the whole gym back on its heels. The body movement, the quick jump, the stroke, each on its own an incredible asset. But the whole package coming down on you in one fell swoop? Magnificent.
What Paul Pierce lacks in aesthetic beauty from beyond the arc, he makes up for with bone-chilling swagger. I mean, Allen and Pierce have always been confident shooters looking for the ball with the game on the line. Now you add a champion's confidence to the swagger flowing through their veins and it's as cold as liquid helium.
Each player hit a shot last night that will stick with me forever. They were at my end of the court and my spot up in the corner gave me a good angle. In fact, I haven't watched a replay of the two shots because I don't want to ruin the visuals that keep replaying in my mind which are so pleasing to the senses.
The first shot, of course, was Paul Pierce's game-tying 3-ball after Eddie House collected a long rebound of an Allen miss (see, one guy is sporting, but two? cruel). Pierce was on the left wing behind the arc. Two Pacers scrambled out to him, first Jarrett Jack went flying by forcing a semi-pump from Pierce, then Granger with arms extended closed out right in Pierce's face. The shot had no rhythm and the stroke was altered slightly. I took a good look at the ball in mid-flight and the rotation was anything but pure. In fact, the ball looked to be hobbling through the air and based on that I thought it would be short. When that ball splashed in the bottom of the net, I knew I had just witnessed a snapshot of greatness.
The second shot was a top-of-the-arc 3-ball by Ray Allen that put the Celtics up five in OT and crushed the Pacers' hopes for winning. Again, this wasn't simply a catch and shoot situation. Marquis Daniels made it out to Allen. In fact it appeared he was going to swat the FGA about five rows deep. But, Allen slightly adjusted in mid-stroke and the release was clean. The ball dropped through the net and many a heart sunk in the Fieldhouse.
So the beauty of the display from distance by Allen and Pierce wasn't simply that they knocked down big shots with the game on the line. They knocked those shots down with defenders in their face, altering release points and rhythm, yet never losing the feel to put the ball in the bucket. Simply, too good.