With one possession remaining in overtime, there were two obvious scoring options for the Celtics -- Paul Pierce and Wally Szczerbiak.
Piling up the points throughout the game, Pierce (35 points) and Szczerbiak (35) generated almost all the offense Boston needed to keep pace with the Charlotte Bobcats. It was no surprise when the ball found its way into Pierce's hands as the final seconds of overtime ticked away.
Pierce saw a lane to the basket and drove toward the rim. But as the Charlotte defense collapsed around him, Pierce spied a wide-open Delonte West, waiting about 16 feet from the basket, just left of the paint.
Despite starting the season 5 for 25 from the floor until overtime last night, West became the only logical option with the game on the line. Pierce passed to West. Without hesitation, West knocked down the jumper at the buzzer. As teammates rushed to West, Pierce looked at the young guard and pointed, a gesture that seemed to say, "There you go. Told you so." Pierce knew he could trust his teammate to secure the Celtics' first win of the season, a 110-108 overtime victory at TD Banknorth Garden.
"I was confident that once I kicked it out Delonte would make the shot," said Pierce, who observed that West was more comfortable back at point guard against the Bobcats. "He's that kind of player. He can knock down shots when we need them. He was there for me."
West appreciated the confidence Pierce showed in him and paid the compliment right back. When asked what he thought when Pierce found him for the final shot, West said, "I thought I've got to hit this."
West added: "That is the true definition of an All-Star when your teammates see you over there [and get you the ball]. Over the past couple years, you've see him do that numerous times. Draw all the defense in and kick [to an open player] for a game-winning shot. He dominates the game in so many ways. He came up with a big assist and I was just the beneficiary of an easy shot."
But overall, the win wasn't pretty. Boston committed 25 turnovers, including 12 by Pierce. Kendrick Perkins found himself in foul trouble again. There were defense lapses and offensive miscues. It wasn't easy. Boston led by 6 points (100-94) with 1 minute 12 seconds remaining in regulation, before collapsing. The Celtics trailed by a basket with less than two minutes left in overtime and needed a defensive stop. But none of the specifics really mattered to Doc Rivers and the players. All they wanted was a positive result, something to put the season back on track. They will worry about the details today at practice before weekend games against Utah and Cleveland.
"It's nice to see a 1 [in the win column] because the 0 sucks," said Rivers. "I hated to look at it. I started wishing ill things on other teams who had the 0 with us. I just wanted other teams to stay with us . . . I wanted to win because I didn't want to be the last team [with a 0]. It's good to get it because I think it will let some of the guys relax a little bit."
Just when Boston thought its first victory was in hand, Charlotte tied the game at 100 with 10.5 seconds remaining in regulation on a layup by Gerald Wallace. The Bobcats actually had three cracks at the basket before Wallace scored, making the tying basket all the more painful for the Celtics. Boston got the ball to Pierce for the final shot and the captain missed the mark on a 20-footer. It was a rare miss for Pierce, who along with Szczerbiak accounted for 19 of the Celtics' final 20 points of the fourth quarter. It was a trend carried over from the third quarter and continued for all but the last shot of overtime.
In the third quarter, the Celtics finally sustained their good play for more than a couple minutes. As a result, Boston led by as many as 10 points and entered the fourth ahead, 82-74. Boston took control with a 20-6 spurt in the third quarter. It was no coincidence that a largely veteran lineup was on the floor when the Celtics got their act together. With the exception of a layup by Sebastian Telfair, Pierce and Szczerbiak accounted for all of the points during the run. Szczerbiak tallied 20 points in the third, including 9 points during the spurt. The Celtics trailed by as many as 9 points in the first half and entered halftime behind, 49-45.
Since the Celtics have now shown they can finish, they would like to start stronger.
Shira Springer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.