Pierce makes, sets up critical shots

BOSTON -- It would have been easy for Paul Pierce to continue shooting.

After the Celtics squandered a 12-point second-half lead in their 107-102 overtime victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Friday night, it was Pierce who scored Boston's final four points over the last two and a half minutes of regulation, knocking down two of three difficult fadeaway jump shots to keep his team afloat.

And once in the extra period after Kevin Garnett and Josh Smith both missed at the tail end of regulation, Pierce kick-started Boston's offensive motor with a slicing left-side drive and layup. But the most important part of his performance Friday -- which concluded with a line of 27 points on 10-of-16 shooting to go along with seven rebounds and seven assists -- was his willingness to pass up potential looks at the rim in favor of better looks for his teammates.

Jeff Green and Jason Terry both knocked down crucial 3-pointers in overtime that helped Boston earn its fifth straight victory, with Pierce providing the passes needed for those shots to happen.

"I don't really think about the game, what I'm going to do," Pierce said. "I just go out there and play on my instincts. If the scoring opportunities are there, I'll take them. If not, I'll try to make the extra pass."

The Hawks jumped out to a quick 98-94 lead in overtime, but after Pierce put in his layup on the left side, he brought the ball up following an Atlanta miss and forged his way toward the hoop again. But instead of trying to force a shot around Josh Smith and Anthony Tolliver, Pierce whipped the ball to the left corner to a wide-open Green, who received a friendly bounce on the rim and gave the Celtics a 99-98 lead.

"That was a big shot," Pierce said. "I saw it go up, but I thought it was off, and then he got the shooter's touch. That's Jeff's spot, usually, in the corner. I was aggressive, found him, and he's money from that spot. I'll give it to him 100 out of 100 times."

Pierce buried a 3-pointer of his own to keep Boston in front, and after Smith tied the game at 102 with a free throw, Boston's captain found himself in another position to try to score the ball on his own. Posting up the smaller Jeff Teague on the left side, Pierce worked his way toward the paint, appearing to brace himself for his patented fall-away jump shot, which helped get the Celtics to overtime in the first place.

But Pierce offered a fake instead, juking backward to get Teague off balance before motoring along the baseline, waiting for something else to develop. And as Atlanta's defense crashed toward his location in the paint, Pierce spotted Terry wide open above the 3-point line. Though Pierce's pass was a bit off, Terry managed to corral it, rise up and bury the shot to put Boston ahead for good.

"I just wanted to just try to be aggressive in whatever I do," Pierce said. "My instincts just take over. It wasn't pre-planned to find Jason. I had the matchup with Teague on me, so I tried to be aggressive. I saw the help and tried to find the open man."

Pierce could have kept shooting. Having knocked down more than 61 percent of his shots through regulation on Friday, he earned that right. But on a night when his points could have defined his outing, Pierce's willingness to pass meant the most to Boston's winning effort.