With the series tied at 1-1 after a split in New Jersey, the Nets dominated Boston in the first half, where the Celtics only managed 13 points in the first quarter. The Nets led by as many as 26 in the third quarter, until Pierce outscored their entire team 19-16 in the fourth quarter to lead Boston to the win.
Pierce finished the game with 28 points in 45 minutes of playing time, and the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 in the fourth quarter.
The comeback is tied for the fourth largest comeback in playoff history and gave the Celtics a chance at an NBA Finals appearance for the first time since 1987. It wasn't meant to be though, and the Nets ended up winning three straight games to close out the series and set up a clash with the two-time defending champion Lakers. LA swept the Nets to complete the first three-peat in the NBA since the days of Michael Jordan.
Pierce would have to wait six years to finally get his chance at a championship, but this game was one of the future Hall-of-Famer's signature performances. The Truth earned his reputation in clutch spots and his fourth-quarter explosion in 2002 was particularly on brand.
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The awards were absolutely deserved by both players. The duo reignited the Boston Celtics vs. Los Angeles Lakers rivalry in the 1980s and from 1980-88, either Bird's Celtics or Johnson's Lakers were in the NBA Finals, and they squared off in three series. And in that time span, either the Celtics or Lakers captured eight of the nine NBA titles, which is absolutely remarkable.
Bird was one of the greatest Celtics of all-time. He averaged 24.3 points, 10 rebounds, and 6.3 assists per game over the course of his 13-year career with the Celtics. He is top-five for the team in most major statistical categories including points, rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. He truly was a game changer and had many moments of greatness throughout his career.
And after his playing career was over, Bird became a very good head coach with the Indiana Pacers and later ran their front office. He won a Coach of the Year in his first season with the Pacers (1998) and also took home the NBA Executive of the Year in 2012.
Bird is simply one of the greatest basketball players, and minds, that the sport has ever seen. Between his statistical prowess, his three titles, two Finals MVPs, three NBA MVPs, and his resume as a coach and front office executive, it's easy to see why the NBA wanted to honor him. And doing it along with his long-time rival, Johnson, just made the moment sweeter for the highly accomplished and revolutionary duo.
On a night where the Celtics weren't up for many 2018-19 NBA awards, Marcus Smart took home a prize that would have made Red Auerbach smile.
Smart won the NBA's Hustle Award, which couldn't have been a better way to recognize his play last season and over his entire career with the Celtics. He was also named to the NBA's First All-Defensive team for the first time, and it'd be surprising if it was the last.
Smart had the best all-around year of his career in 2018-19. After signing a four-year contract to stay with the team that drafted him sixth overall in 2014, he shot a career-high 36.4 percent from three to go along with his consistently superb defensive output.
On a team that lacked the heart and will to win in the face of adversity, Smart represented the kind of wherewithal Celtics fans hoped the rest of the roster would show night in and night out. Unfortunately, that didn't happen, and it contributed to the team's ultimate demise in the second round against the Bucks.