Paul Pierce's step-back jump shot over Amare Stoudemire with 0.4 seconds left in the game gave the Celtics(20-4) a 118-116 victory against the New York Knicks(16-10) on Wednesday night.
Stoudemire's campaign for MVP this season continued with a stellar 39 point and 10 rebound performance that didn't include a game winning 3 point shot that was ruled out by the buzzer.
From the Knick's very first possession they signaled their intent to get the ball to their mercurial power forward as he took the ball from Raymond Felton and made a three point play through a foul from Rajon Rondo.
It was an ominous sign of what was to come for the Celtics, who were missing both Shaquille and Jermaine O'Neal from their interior defense, as Stoudemire scored 17 points in the first quarter alone. Stoudemire showed an array of moves and the ability to score from all over the court that was too much for backup center Semih Erden. Neither Erden or Glenn Davis could handle Stoudemire but the Celtics hung in there thanks to big performances from their big three.
While Stoudemire undoubtedly had the biggest performance of the night Paul Pierce wasn't far behind. Not only did Pierce hit the game winning shot he was the Celtics most consistent performer through four quarters. Pierce's early field goals and consistency from the free throw line(10/10) kept the Celtics within touching distance of the Knicks who led for each of the first three quarters. Pierce finished the game with 32 points and 10 rebounds.
It was the epitome of a team effort for the Celtics as Kevin Garnett(20 points and 13 rebounds), Ray Allen(26 points) and Rajon Rondo(14 assists and 10 points) all contributed handsomely. Rajon Rondo's 14 assists is a huge indication of just how impressive the Celtics have been this season across the roster. Rondo did not really impose himself on the game in ways that he can but the Celtics still shot 52.3% from the field.
It is this all around contribution that ultimately decided the game. The Knicks have been using predominantly a seven man rotation throughout the season and four of their starters played over forty minutes last night. This was especially telling in the fourth quarter as the Celtics outscored their opponents by 9 points having previously not led at the end of any of the first three quarters.
While the MVP chants from the crowd in Madison Square Garden for Amare Stoudemire last night may have been a little premature, he certainly helped his case and proved just how far the Knicks have come since last season as Paul Pierce attested to after the game claiming “That team has arrived.”
This won't be any consolation to the Knicks as Jeff Van Gundy noted in commentary, “There is no such thing as a moral victory.”