BOSTON -- Even Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce couldn't help but wonder what the Portland Trail Blazers were thinking when they left Ray Allen open for a late-game 3-pointer that sealed Boston's 99-95 triumph Wednesday night at the TD Garden.
"How can you leave Ray Allen -- one of the great shooters of all-time -- wide open like that?" asked Pierce, repeating something that's seemingly been heard numerous times since Allen arrived in Boston. "He'll hit that 99 percent of the time."
To be fair, Allen had been fairly dreadful to that point. The 15th-year veteran misfired on all but two of his first 11 shots, including all five 3-pointers he hoisted.
But everyone in the building knew that he was going to take a 3-pointer if he had a good look. Heck, Allen didn't have a good look and rushed an awful first attempt at a dagger 20 seconds earlier. Fortunately for Boston, Wesley Matthews -- whose fine shooting at the other end of the floor helped keep Portland in the game as the Blazers nearly rallied out of a 16-point, fourth-quarter hole over the final five minutes -- committed a loose-ball foul, allowing Boston to maintain possession.
The Blazers rolled the dice in a one-point game, attempting to trap Pierce as he dribbled down the clock. Sure, Pierce had the hot hand, connecting on 9 of 11 attempts, including 4 of 5 3-pointers, for a game-high 28 points. But the NBA's unwritten rulebook almost certainly includes a chapter about never leaving a shooter like Allen open in a clutch moment.
The Blazers did. Maybe it explains why the Celtics have won five straight and sit atop the Eastern Conference at 14-4, while Portland has dropped five in a row and stands at 8-10.
Allen collected a Pierce feed and calmly splashed the clinching trifecta for the final points of the game, sealing a win that Boston tried desperately to fumble away early and late.
"For me, as a scorer -- like Ray -- you always feel that next one is going to go in," said Pierce. "It's something about clutch players, it's just something that runs through your veins. When a game is on the line, you tend to forget about what happened the rest of the game; you focus on that last play, on that last shot. Your concentration and focus goes to another level, and that's what you see from Ray, year in and year out. When you need him most, he's going to deliver."
Poor Blazers coach Nate McMillan was left grasping at straws trying to explain his team's late-game strategy. The Celtics had the ability to run out much of the final 28.2 seconds with its final possession, but Portland elected not to foul, or force someone other than Pierce and Allen to take the shot.
"They're a great free throw shooting team," suggested McMillan, ignoring the fact that Boston ranked 24th in the league at a mere 73.5 percent success rate at the charity stripe.
"We wanted to play out the clock in that situation. What we thought about was making the play -- going out and trapping and making them move the ball. And, you know, Ray Allen gets loose and [LaMarcus Aldridge] tried to get out there -- but [Allen] hits his only 3 of the night."
Brandon Roy did stress that Blazers had nothing to lose (but another game) and tried to be aggressive. It backfired when Andre Miller got caught wandering towards Pierce, leaving Allen alone on the wing.
At that point, it didn't matter how many shots he had missed before that moment.
"Shooters just keep shooting," said Shaquille O'Neal. "[Allen] is going to make the ones we need and he rarely misses them all."
Allen, who finished with 9 points in 38 minutes, might have never gotten the opportunity if not for Pierce, who rarely missed Wednesday. Pierce connected on all five shots he took in the first half while racking up 14 points, then, despite finally missing a couple in the second half, chipped in 12 third-quarter points while digging the Celtics out of an eight-point hole.
"I thought I did a good job mixing it up," said Pierce. "Going inside, getting a rhythm; Going outside, taking the shots that where there. I felt like I had fresh legs because I was in foul trouble [Tuesday] night. But I just wanted to come out and be aggressive from the jump and just play in the flow. I didn't try to force anything. It came easy in the flow of the offense."
Allen's final dagger didn't surprise O'Neal, and neither did Pierce's output.
"No, that's why I labeled him 'The Truth' 10 or 12 years ago," O'Neal said of Pierce. "He has it all: inside, outside, post. He's a great player and a great teammate. He could've took the last shot, but he saw Ray wide open in the corner. You saw Ray was struggling a little bit, but he had enough belief in him to kick it to him."
Which showed yet again why this Celtics team is so successful: Trust in each other, trust that the next shot is going to fall.
Trust even after both Allen and Pierce put up airballs during Wednesday's game.
"I don't know if I've seen [both shoot airballs in the same game], but it happens," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "That's why they're different than all of us. I'm sure if you've shot an airball, you probably wouldn't take another shot. And Ray was looking for the next one. And that's the difference."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.