The Celtics held out hope last season that O'Neal could get on the floor for the conference semifinals, but his Achilles never allowed it (and Boston was bounced in five games by the Heat). After Boston won Game 5 of this year's Eastern Conference finals over Miami on Tuesday night, Mickael Pietrus suggested O'Neal deserved some credit.
Pietrus made a pair of monster 3-pointers over the final six minutes as part of a 13-point outburst that helped the Celtics to a 94-90 triumph at American Airlines Arena. Boston leads the series, 3-2.
Invited to the postgame podium alongside Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce, Pietrus credited O'Neal for some encouraging words.
“Yesterday I got a text from Shaq that said, ‘Just keep believing and keep playing,’ so that’s what I did," Pietrus said.
Pietrus' first big shot came in what might have been the game's biggest play. With Miami ahead by six with little more than six minutes to go, Dwyane Wade scrambled to produce a monster block on Brandon Bass at the rim. The ball lofted out toward the free throw line, where Rajon Rondo not only outleaped LeBron James and Mario Chalmers, but had the presence of mind to deflect the ball to a wide-open Pietrus on the right wing.
"When Rondo took that rebound and kicked it out to me, I knew I had to take the shot and make it," Pietrus said. "That’s what I did.”
With Boston down a point with three minutes to play, Pietrus produced another key hustle play by chasing down an offensive rebound of a Ray Allen miss (kept alive by another quick-thinking Rondo poke). The ball eventually ended up in Garnett's hands and he buried a baseline jumper to push Boston back out front.
After Miami answered, Pietrus again came up big. This time a loose-ball scramble left Pietrus open in the corner and an alert Pierce swung the ball to him for a triple and an 85-83 lead with 2:11 to play.
"One thing you know about MP is he's going to shoot it," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "He's been down this road before. He played with Orlando, made big shots, had big defensive stops, was very comfortable. The thing I loved, he didn't hesitate on either (3-pointer). He actually slowed down a little bit to gather himself and took two big 3s for us."
Rivers also noted the Rondo tip-pass play.
"I thought the play Rondo made for us was absolutely sensational to get MP the one 3," Rivers said. "It was on a long rebound (of a) blocked shot. And Rondo not only saved it, but he saved it toward one of our shooters. I thought that was maybe the biggest play of the game."