There are those sports games that you look back to and those are the ones that help make you a fan. 18 years ago on Memorial Day, an Eastern Conference Finals game between the Celtics and the then New Jersey Nets was one of those games. Coming into this game, this was the furthest the Celtics had gone in the playoffs since the 1987-88 conference finals against the Detroit Pistons, and this was the first NBA Postseason in the Fleetcenter (Now the TD Garden).
The Celtics and Nets were tied at 1-1, with the series returning to Beantown. Through the first three quarters of Game 3 it was all Nets, who were leading 74-53 and causing the C’s to get booed throughout the game by their own fans.
To that point no team had comeback from a 19-point deficit. Former Celtics head coach Jim O’Brien said the first three quarters were “Purgatory, it might have been closer to hell for three quarters, but the last one was Eden.”
Boston started off the 4th quarter on an 11-0 run, with Paul Pierce scoring seven of those points after a nightmare 2-14 effort through the first three quarters. Over the last 5:46 of the game Boston ended the game on a 22-7 run, led by Pierce who scored 19 points in the 4th on six of seven shooting, while the Nets scored 16 points as a team in the final quarter. Boston, somehow, someway, won this game 94-90.
While we may look at the 4th quarter as the primary reason why Boston won this game. Their performance at the free throw line in the final quarter was a big item of note. Boston shot 18-21 from the charity stripe, while the Nets shot eight of nine. In the game as a whole Boston shot 85% from the free throw lin,e while New Jersey was just 61%.
After the game #34 had this to say about the team’s monumental comeback, “At the start of the fourth quarter we just wanted to fight and make a statement for the next game that we’re going to be a team to be reckoned with. I think we did more than make a statement.”
Although Pierce’s 4th quarter is what everyone was talking about, Antoine Walker backed up his teammate with 23 points and 12 rebounds. Walke, through the entire series was a force, nearly averaging a double-double with 22.5 ppg and 9.8 ppg.
New Jersey would turn things around and win the next three games of the series to secure an Eastern Conference Championship
The 2001-2002 Nets were in the middle of a nice run, appearing in the NBA finals in back to back seasons, including running the table through the 2003 Eastern Conference playoffs. Was it a bad night for Jason Kidd, Kerry Kittles, Kenyon Martin and the others? Maybe, but this game also introduced a lot of people to the type of player Paul Pierce could be. Starting 2-12 and turning things around in the 4th quarter, hitting clutch shots and shooting his way out of a funk.
During the game former NBA commissioner David Stern was interviewed and said basketball was back in Boston. Right he was as Paul Pierce jumped on the scorer’s table to celebrate the greatest 4th quarter comeback in NBA history.
The Celtics and Nets would meet up in the next postseason, but Boston would get swept out of the playoffs. This was the final appearance in the conference finals until the 2007-08 championship run, which would feature the truth as the Finals MVP.
It’s hard to think this epic comeback took place 18 years ago, but this was one of those games that started me on the path to becoming a Celtics fan. I doubt I’m the only one in saying that.