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In end, Pierce disappointed

By Michael Whitmer
Globe Staff / May 25, 2010

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Looking back, there were little signs that Game 4 wasn’t going to go the Celtics’ way. Aside from the Big Three, nobody scored in double figures. Rajon Rondo had a pedestrian game, rare this postseason. Heck, even Garden god Rene Rancourt flubbed the words slightly during the national anthem.

Perhaps most telling, as far as omens go, is that for the first time in the series, Paul Pierce didn’t score Boston’s first points of the game. He had been the first Celtic to score the first three games, all victories. He didn’t get the honor this time — Ray Allen buried a 3-pointer more than a minute in — and while it certainly had no eventual bearing on Orlando’s 96-92 overtime victory last night, superstitious fans can point to it and shake their heads.

Too bad, because Pierce did almost everything else in his power to push the Celtics to a four-game sweep and into the NBA Finals. The captain scored a game-high-tying 32 points, making big shots late, drawing fouls, and nearly willing the Celtics back to the league’s biggest stage.

“You fight so hard to get back into the game and overtime,’’ Pierce said, “but little things hurt us. I thought we really pressed too much, each of us wanted to do it by ourselves instead of making the extra pass, doing the things that got us the 3-0 lead.’’

It wasn’t the opening sequence that will gnaw at Pierce, though, but the end of regulation. Handed the ball with the shot clock turned off and the game tied at 86, Pierce had an opportunity to bring the Celtics the Eastern Conference banner and deliver the knockout blow to Orlando. After Jameer Nelson missed a jumper in Orlando’s attempt to break the tie, the Celtics rebounded and opted not to call a timeout, Rondo giving Pierce the ball just past halfcourt with roughly 8 seconds left.

Pierce dribbled right and tried to shake a defender and create some separation on his favorite spot on the floor, but he lost the ball with just more than 2 seconds left, and the ensuing scrum played out as the final buzzer sounded. On to overtime.

“It was a pick-and-roll, me and Ray Allen, and I just pretty much screwed it up, turned the ball over,’’ Pierce said. “That’s all it is, I couldn’t get the final shot. That’s no excuse, we still had opportunities in overtime and didn’t take advantage of them.’’

Will he replay that final sequence over and over?

“If I replay that in my mind, I’m not going to get any sleep. Most likely I am,’’ Pierce said. “But it happened, and I can’t change it.’’

It would have been a fitting final play for Pierce, who scored 5 of the Celtics’ last 8 points to help force the extra period. With Orlando leading, 85-78, Pierce flew straight down the lane and uncorked a vicious one-handed dunk to draw the Celtics within 5. Then, after a 3-pointer by Allen and a free throw by Nelson gave the Magic an 86-83 lead, Pierce was fouled by Nelson while making a driving layup. The free throw tied the game at 86 with 1:16 left, and set up the final, fateful possessions in regulation.

Of Boston’s last chance to win in regulation, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy knew who would get the ball. It’s not the guy he wanted with it.

“We were going to come at him and try to make somebody else shoot the ball,’’ Van Gundy said. “He had been tremendous all night.’’

After making 6 of his 8 shots in the first half, Pierce was just 5 for 17 following intermission, with many of his late misses coming up short. Nobody played more minutes (46) than Pierce, but he wasn’t blaming fatigue.

“A lot of my shots felt good, I just missed them,’’ Pierce said. “A lot of them were good looks that I normally make.’’

Now, with the initial opportunity to close out the series wasted, Pierce said he’ll look ahead, not back. Tomorrow night becomes the new focus.

“We didn’t want to go back on their floor to play, but we’ve got to try to get another win in that building, that’s the goal,’’ Pierce said. “We really don’t want to come back here for Game 6. The sense of urgency will be there.’’

Michael Whitmer can be reached at mwhitmer@globe.com

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