Shaq's Text Spurs Big Game from Pietrus
MIAMI – It’s not often that a text message leads to a series-changing performance in the NBA Playoffs, but it happened Tuesday night.
The Celtics and Heat headed into Game 5 all knotted up at two games apiece, meaning the winner would be one step away from the NBA Finals. The Celtics are now that team thanks in large part to Mickael Pietrus, who received an encouraging text message from Shaquille O’Neal on Monday.
“You know, yesterday I got a text from Shaq telling me keep believing and keep playing,” Pietrus explained at the postgame podium, a place with which he’s not too familiar. “So that's what I did.”
The fact that Pietrus was at the podium provides proof that he kept believing and kept playing. He also kept making big shots and kept harassing LeBron James and Dwyane Wade during his 27 minutes of playing time Tuesday night.
Pietrus finished with his most impressive box score in months. You’d have to dig back to February to find a box score that rivals his Game 5 performance, which consisted of 13 points, three rebounds and two steals off the bench.
Those numbers aren’t on par with LeBron James, but Pietrus can make a confident claim that he made a greater impact Tuesday night than King James did. Six of Pietrus’ 13 points were scored in the fourth quarter, when he attempted and nailed two critical 3-pointers. James, on the other hand, missed more shots (three) in the fourth quarter than Pietrus even attempted (two), yet scored just three more points than Boston’s top swingman off the bench.
Which brings us to another point, one that has been understated in this series: Pietrus can defend with the best of them, and he did so against James and Wade throughout Game 5, most importantly in the fourth quarter. His versatile defensive abilities give Doc Rivers options.
“He's able to guard twos and threes for us,” Rivers said shortly after his team took a 3-2 series lead. “It allows us to go small with Paul (Pierce) at the four, MP at the four, whoever you want to call the four. And it's been terrific for us.”
It was terrific tonight when it mattered most. Pietrus hasn’t been a key cog in Boston’s fourth-quarter pushes during this series, but tonight was the ringleader. He was forced to play all but two seconds of the final frame and, as Rivers said, changed the mentality of his team.
“I thought that in that third quarter when Ray (Allen) had to go in and get treatment on his foot, didn't know if he was coming back,” said Rivers. “[Pietrus], we make a couple of shots… I thought that gave us belief and life again.”
If you know Pietrus, you know that he is the true definition of belief and life. He walks around with nothing but a smile on his face each and every day and carries a level of confidence that is unmatched. His demeanor is contagious, and it fits in perfectly within this Celtics team.
Pietrus’ confidence doesn’t ever seem to waver. As Rivers said after the game, “One thing you know about MP is he's going to shoot it.” Although he has been struggling to put the ball through the basket for what seems like forever, the trust that Pietrus’ teammates have in him has never wavered.
“The one thing that we’ll never do is take the confidence away from another player,” said Ray Allen. “We know what MP is, what he does, we know that with all of our players. So we just continue to encourage our guys to do what they do.”
What Pietrus did Tuesday night was give his team a needed boost that pushed them to the brink of the NBA Finals. The man known by many as Air France carried his confidence over to postgame, where he said, “I think it's up to us to go home and close it out.”
All that’s needed now is for Shaq to send along another encouraging text to Pietrus tomorrow. Make it happen, Diesel. We’ll cover the bill.