Showing Heart, Pierce Recovers from Wounded Knee To Bury Lakers

Silence. In the NBA Finals. It unexpectedly invaded the Garden last night when Paul Pierce fell in the third quarter, clutching his right knee. But what followed would scribe another chapter into Celtics' lore.

Many things went into the Boston Celtics 98-88 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of the Finals, but none were as crucial to this game -- and the rest of the series -- as Pierce's heart.

Garnett

It looked like curtains for Paul Pierce when he injured his knee in the third quarter of Game 1, but he returned to light up the Lakers and spark Boston's victory.
Brian Babineau/NBAE/Getty

After spending a minute and a half in the locker room getting his knee checked, Pierce decided that there was no better place to test the pain than on stage, where the crowd welcomed him back with a dramatic ovation.

"Once I felt I could put weight on it, I was like, I had to get back out there to help my ballclub," Pierce said. "That was all that was going through my mind, just being a part of it. I just wanted to get back out there."

It's hard to blame him after waiting 10 years to get here in the first place. Maybe it was heart, or maybe it was the adrenaline that allowed Pierce -- wearing a sleeve on his knee -- to go return with his team holding a one-point lead. Who knows, maybe it really was, as he said, an angel that told him he'd be all right, but whatever allowed Pierce back on the court, it was responsible for his back-to-back three pointers on the right wing that handed the Celtics the permanent lead.

"He rejuvenated us, I think to the point where he gave everybody life," Kevin Garnett said.

And took it away from the Lakers.

"That was a big momentum change in the game," Phil Jackson said.

The change began long before the injury. After halftime, Pierce took over the game in the same manner as he did in Game 7 against Cleveland, opening the half with a driving layup and a four-point play after an overzealous Vladimir Radmanovic fouled his deep attempt. The next possession, he stuck a 15-footer. It only figures that it was on defense, which Pierce had so thoroughly devoted himself to this season, that he would fall.

When Kobe Bryant sped across the right side of the lane and took off for a running jumper, Pierce leapt with him to contest the shot. But on the way down he collided with Kendrick Perkins and collapsed to the baseline.

Later in the night, after walking gingerly to the press conference podium with ice bags taped to both knees, Pierce tried to explain what happened, but no words resonated quite like the unknown at 6:49 of the third quarter.

"I thought that was it," Pierce said. "I mean, I thought -- a lot of things going through my mind. I thought I tore something. Once I heard the pop, and I couldn't move it at first, I thought that was it." The sense of dread that fell over both crowd and teammates confirmed Pierce's thoughts. This was it, after earning the franchise's first trip to the Finals in 21 years, the Celtics' captain was carried off the court by teammates and wheelchaired to the locker room.

"Honestly I thought the worst," Doc Rivers said. "When they carried Paul off -- I've had the injury, I've seen it; I just assumed it was the knee."

He kept those thoughts to himself. In the huddle, Rivers reminded the Celtics that they had prepared themselves all season for this kind of adversity. It was why they carried 'Ubuntu' with them every day. Led by Ray Allen, the Celtics began taking momentum back on their own, bursting to a quick 4-0 run in Pierce's absence.

"When Paul went down, we just said, this is that moment of adversity where we have to suck it up and we have to figure it out," Allen said. "We just wanted to make sure that we continued to attack. It wasn't going to change in our mind because Paul wasn't there."

Pierce's deliberate march towards the scorer's table evoked memories of Willis Reed limping onto the court before Game 7 of the 1970 Finals. For others, it may elicit words such as toughness, grit, even heroics. As for the Celtics, after the emotional tests of Game 1, it just might be a sign.

"In the back of my mind I said, 'everything is gonna be alright,'" Leon Powe said. "Because it's meant to be.'"

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