BOSTON — It was the sight that Celtics players, coaches and fans had been longing to see. The sign that makes followers believe that maybe, just maybe, the C's contending for a title may not yet be out of reach.
For at least one game, aging and injured Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett turned back the clock and showed that, on the right night, the spark is still alive.
"Paul did a great job of being aggressive on offense and defense," said Celtics swingman Marquis Daniels. "He is just going out there and
playing the way he does. Paul is a great scorer, so I don't worry about him."
Daniels may not worry, but many have wondered about the 32-year-old Pierce, who has battled injuries to his thumb and knee throughout this season on his way to averaging 17.5 points per game, the fewest since his rookie season (16.5).
And it appeared early on that last night may be another lost game for Pierce. He was whistled for two quick fouls and played just 1:51 in the first period without scoring a point.
"Most players struggle on nights when you pick up fouls like that," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "But Paul came back in and he looked
like he hadn't missed a beat."
Pierce reentered the game at the open of the second quarter, and by halftime he had already hung 13 points on the lowly Knicks.
Looking quick and athletic, Pierce needed just 24:09 to post 29 points for the game, shooting 11 of 17 from the floor, including three
That total marked the second most points for Pierce in a game this season, trailing just the 35 he scored in a loss to Atlanta. But, more importantly, it was the first time in eight games that he had scored more than 20 points.
Whether he was slashing or sinking jump shots, the Truth showed flashes of his old self last night.
"Paul did a heck of a job," said Garnett. "I thought the last few games he has been more aggressive. And in order to win big like we've been
winning, he's going to have to continue to do that."
But maybe no sight was more thrilling to Celtics fans than the one at 5:27 of the third period.
Off a pass from Rajon Rondo, Garnett took two steps and hammered down an impressive two-handed slam dunk, hanging on the rim for a second for good measure. He had also thrown another down with authority midway through the first quarter.
For a few seconds, it was not the Garnett who has settled for layups since his knee injury a year ago February. It was the athletic Garnett
who brought crowds to their feet with his ups in his first season in Green.
"I felt like I had a lot of energy," said Garnett. "I ran the floor as well as I have this year and I have to continue to do that."
Yes, the stats were impressive. In 24:21 of play, KG hit 9 of 11 shots on his way to 22 points, the most since his 26 in the Celtics' horrific
loss to New Jersey. He was hardly bothered by New York All-Star center David Lee.
But for the 14-year veteran, who at 14.2 points and 7.5 rebounds a game is posting
his worst numbers since his rookie season (10.4 points, 4.1 rebounds), it was more about the energy and assertiveness he showed that has been missing for much of this year.
If the Celtics are to make a playoff run, it is the KG and Pierce of last night who will need to be in attendance for the Green.
"I don't know if they're all the way back yet," said Rivers. "But they're getting a lot closer. There are still going to be ups and
downs, but I'm hoping right now we have a lot more games out of those two like we did tonight."