BOSTON -- The unchecked confidence Jason Terry brings into every game isn't meant to rub people -- friend or foe -- the wrong way. Confidence can always border on arrogance, but for Terry, it isn't a show for the crowds, but, rather, a longtime promise to himself.
After Terry made a game-sealing 3-pointer with 36.7 seconds left in the Boston Celtics' 108-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night -- easily his biggest "clutch" shot of the season -- he was asked about the source of his late-game swagger. Instead of delivering a story of past heroics, he pointed to one of the most disappointing outcomes of his career, when he was a sophomore at Franklin High School in Seattle.
"In high school, my sophomore year, state tournament, senior-laden team, I was a sophomore and I took the last shot and I missed," Terry explained. "But from that day on, I vowed that any time the game was on the line or I'm in that situation, I will take the shot and I will be confident, make or miss. My coach always told me, you had [real confidence] to take the shot when you're the only sophomore on the team and we've got all seniors. And it basically ended their career, but it gave me confidence in mine for the rest of my time.
"If I had made [the shot], I'd really be shooting them now, with even more confidence. But sometimes through your biggest failures you reveal your greatest successes, and that's just the way I've been bred. You hate for games to come down to situations like that, but I love it."
The Celtics were nursing a 103-98 lead, staving off a furious Thunder rally, when Terry sank his shot that finally put the game out of reach. Rajon Rondo grabbed a Kendrick Perkins miss and motored up the floor on the left side, looking for a quick score. When nothing developed, he drove along the baseline and found Terry on the right wing. But rather than hoist a shot or attack the rim, Terry opted to slow things down. With plenty of time still left on the shot clock, he brought the ball toward the top of the arc and held out his hand -- a signal for his team to steady itself.
His patience paid off, as he fed Kevin Garnett at the free throw line and then floated to the left wing. Garnett passed the ball back out to Rondo, who immediately zinged it over to Terry, who rose up and knocked down the shot, capping off a 16-point effort on 6-of-8 shooting, including 4-of-6 shooting from 3-point nation.
"I've been in that situation plenty of times, in a situation where it's time to close a game out, never in a hurry," Terry said. "At that point, the ball is in your hands and we wanted to get a good shot. At the end of the day, if we make or miss, we want to get the shot we wanted and go back and set our defense up.
"We had great ball movement. Rondo penetrated, kicked to me, I kicked to KG, kicked to Rondo, he kicked it back to me. Any time you have ball movement like that, it's tough for the defense to catch up and I've been making a living on shots like that my entire career. I'm never scared of the moment, but great pass by Rondo to find me, and I didn't hesitate."
The shot -- like any of Terry's coming in the final moments -- was a package deal; his trademark swooping runway celebration immediately followed it.
It was almost like Terry was waiting for a shot like that. After all, he hasn't been shy about discussing his ability to hit big shots ever since he arrived in Boston. And with the team in serious need of a quality win, and having one within its grasp, who better to take the shot and seal the outcome? It was a win-win; the ending played out as the offseason script had intended.
Terry said there was "no question" that it was his biggest shot of the season.
"As a Celtic thus far, with that shot putting it out of reach, that was big for me," he said. "Huge for my confidence, too. I hadn't been in that situation as a Celtic. But like I said, uniform may change, but my game doesn't, and I relish in those moments."
Said head coach Doc Rivers: "That was big down the stretch. I was about to call a timeout because I thought we were discombobulated offensively. That's why you have a JET on your team, because he's a big shot-maker."
Don't expect Terry's confidence to waver any time soon. He's probably already eager for his next opportunity to seal a win for the Celtics.
And, more importantly, he's not done fulfilling the promise he made to himself all those years ago.