In a way, Jason Richardson should have known better. When Paul Pierce made his move to the right wing in the final minute of a tie game, even the ushers at TD Garden knew what was coming next. But as has happened to other defenders, Pierce got Richardson off his feet, drawing contact before muscling in a 19-foot jumper -- and drawing the foul -- with 38.7 seconds left.
Pierce added the free throw, capping a modest-yet-efficient 14-point effort (5-of-7 shooting). He chipped in 5 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 blocks and a steal over 39 minutes, but it was the signature move at the end that left the biggest mark on the game.
“It was just a play we worked on," Pierce said. "I’ve run it a number of times, we got the switch with Jason Richardson and Coach just said to be aggressive. I think he trusts me to be responsible with the ball and to take the shot or try to find somebody. I was just able to get the space and I saw some daylight and got a good look.”
Hadn't we seen this before? Shouldn't Richardson have been thinking about Pierce's winner in New York in mid-December?
"I've been in that situation a number of times and I really don't get rattled," Pierce said. "I tried to keep my cool, be calm about myself, especially in the last two minutes, when everybody is panicked and the crowd is going crazy. I'm just trying to zone in at that point, focus on another level, especially in the waning minutes of the game."
How it unfolded surely didn't surprise Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who said the team worked on the pick-and-roll play during Sunday's practice, but didn't dip into the set until the final moments.
"We thought they would switch at the end of the game, Paul and Ray [Allen] in the pick-and-roll, which we hadn’t done all game," Rivers said. "We worked on it [Sunday] and we kept telling [the defense] to switch because we thought they would, giving Paul the smaller guy. Now you know, that elbow shot, he’s going to get it off, and he did with the three-point play."
--VAN GUNDY SPEAKS HIS MIND ... AS USUAL--
Stan Van Gundy isn't bashful about giving his opinion. The debits the NBA has made from his paychecks, including a $35,000 withdrawal for public comments about officiating earlier this month, prove that. So asked about walking that delicate line amidst constant media attention, Van Gundy vented slightly before Monday's game.
"I've said before, the thing that I think is a little bit frustrating is that, No. 1, [coaches] spend a lot of time talking to the media, and that's by a league decree," Van Gundy said. "I did media after the walkthrough today, I have our radio thing I have to do after that, then I'm meeting with you guys now, [and] I've got to do it again after the game. So that's four [times] right there. And all [the league] talk[s] about to us all the time is being open and accessible and everything else. So you've got to do it four times per day, plus I'm miked during the game tonight, cameras on me before the game and at halftime -- but don't say anything wrong. Be open and accessible, but make sure everything you say is exactly what they want you to say.
"There's no warnings or anything else. It's $35,000. It's tough. The easiest thing to do, to me, if they don't want us to say things wrong is just don't have us meet with [the media]. Then nothing would come out of us. That would be easy. But it is tough. I try to answer the questions I'm asked honestly, and I guess that's not the way to go.
"It's not just a list of subjects, I mean, you just can't say anything critical about the league at all. I wish we had that rule about coaches -- that [the media] couldn't say anything critical about us, but the only people in the game who can't be criticized are the officials and the people in the league office. Everybody else is fair game.
"I actually don't mind meeting with [the media], but, I mean, $35,000 is pretty steep. A pretty steep price. I don't know that I like paying that much to meet with you and answer questions honestly. I don't care what you make, that's a lot of money and that one hurt."
--LOOSE BALLS: PRACTICE GETS LOUD; C'S IN FOXBOROUGH; MLK DAY--
* Rivers gushed about having his familiar starting five on the floor during Sunday's practice as both Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins returned for full sessions. It marked the first time the five have shared the floor in a full-contact situation since Game 6 of the NBA Finals when Perkins tore his right ACL battling for a rebound.
"Loud," Rivers said before Monday's game when asked about the session. "I mean that in a very complimentary way. It was the loudest practice we've had all year because our two best talkers -- Perk and Kevin -- were on the floor, barking out instructions and holding everyone accountable. Perk practiced [Sunday] like it was the world championship because it was the first time he had any action. Kevin practices like that all the time.
"It's funny, I got upset at our second unit [Sunday], then when I watched the practice film, I realized it was not a lot they could have done. That starting group, with [Perkins and Garnett] on the floor, they made us really good defensively. Unfortunately, we won't have that [Monday]."
The Celtics hope to have that by Feb. 4, the date Perkins is targeting for his return when the Dallas Mavericks visit TD Garden.
* After Sunday's practice, most Celtics players ventured to Gillette Stadium to watch the Patriots and Jets battle from a luxury box. Even though he knows firsthand the unpredictable nature of sports, Celtics guard Ray Allen admitted to being both stunned and saddened for the Boston sports community after New York upset New England.
Rivers said there's a lesson to be learned from the Patriots' loss, though it might not be evident quite yet for a team with championship aspirations of its own.
"There's always lessons in sports, I don't know what that one will be," Rivers said. "It's not one we can use today, I can tell you that. But that was a tough one."
After falling to the Lakers in Games 6 and 7 in Los Angeles last season, Rivers has aspirations of forcing any Game 7 to be on the Garden floor this year. He admitted there's a cautionary tale for top-seeded squads, which he hopes to have, but said the Celtics couldn't focus on that quite yet.
"I think we all know that. That's been proven," said Rivers. "It's too early to think about any of that. We're just trying to get better tomorrow and the next day and the next day still. [For the Patriots], it's just one of those nights. A tough one for me to watch."
The same couldn't be said for the Bears' thumping of the Seahawks in an NFC divisional contest, something Rivers, a Chicago native and die-hard Bears fan, took great pride in.
"The Bears looked good. That was good," said Rivers. "But I think they have a tough one coming up [vs. Green Bay]."
* The Celtics showed video tributes, including interviews with Pierce and Nate Robinson, while commemorating MLK Day. The team also held a 'King Minute,' a 60-second moment of silent reflection in memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before tip-off against the Magic.
* Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon sat courtside for Monday's battle. Patriots players, a frequent presence at big games this season, were -- not surprisingly -- absent.
* Garnett didn't lose any of his sense of humor during his absence. At his postgame press conference, he joked, "I was just called up from the D-League." Alas, only rookie Avery Bradley is currently on assignment with Boston's NBA Developmental League affiliate, the Maine Red Claws.
Greg Payne, a student intern for ESPNBoston.com, contributed to this report.