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Paul Pierce came up big in Game 6 vs. Atlanta despite his knee injury.Grantland.com's Bill Simmons puts Paul Pierce in the spotlight after his part in Boston's Game 6 triumph over the Atlanta Hawks in an Eastern Conference first-round series Thursday night:
Of course, it's not officially a fun Paul Pierce postseason until he's playing hurt. Pierce tweaked his knee during a Sunday walk-around, then exacerbated it during that night's Game 4 and sprained his MCL. Random coincidence: I sprained my MCL last summer playing hoops, didn't realize it and played a couple more times before realizing something was seriously wrong. (I thought I had just tweaked it.) What's weird about sprained MCLs is that you can play at about 70 percent speed (as long as you have a brace), but you're always thinking about it, you can't plant hard on it, you can't really move laterally, and you're constantly worried your knee might cave on you. The only way it heals? By resting and not playing. (Which is what I eventually did. And by the way, I'm older and significantly less athletic than Pierce, to say the least.) Of course, Pierce didn't have that luxury, so he played at 70 percent in Game 5 (air balling the potential winning shot) and 70 percent in Game 6, if only because 70 percent of Paul Pierce is better than 300 percent of Marquis Daniels or Sasha Pavlovic.
Which is what made the following moment so great …
Trailing by three in the final 90 seconds of Game 6, with a petrifying Game 7 in Atlanta looming, Pierce (trapped in the left corner) rolled the dice for one play, drove hard along the baseline to the basket, up-faked Johnson and somehow willed the ball through the hoop, keeping Boston alive and setting up everything that happened next (Josh Smith's horrific 20-footer, Kevin Garnett's winning basket, Al Horford's missed free throw and a textbook Celtics escape).
We'll remember Game 6 for Kevin Garnett's vintage KG performance, and maybe even for Josh Smith turning into Josh Smith at the worst possible time. Just don't forget that Pierce layup. It was a great play by a very good player, the kind of moment that sets him apart from just about everybody who ever played basketball for a living. I will remember watching you, Paul Pierce.
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