With Kevin Garnett still in street clothes and Ray Allen shockingly exiting the game with his sixth foul, Game Five and the fate of the Boston Celtics championship defense fell into the hands of one player.
Luckily for Boston fans, that player was Paul Pierce.
After two seasons of having ample help from his All-Star teammates, Pierce was once again asked to shoulder the load himself late in Game Five, and the reigning NBA Finals MVP came though. He valiantly fended off the Bulls after Allen fouled out with 5:27 left in regulation.
With Chicago assassin Ben Gordon fighting through a hamstring injury to hit shot after shot, and Joakim Noah cleaning up the middle for the Bulls, things looked bleak for the Celticsa 3-2 series deficit was staring them in the face as Game Six loomed in the Windy City.
But Pierce rose to the occasion, as he has so many times before.
Struggling with his shot through most of the game, Pierce went to work on the Bulls following Allen's departure, as Boston attempted to recover from a 10-point deficit in the fourth quarter.
With help from Rajon Rondo and Kendrick Perkins, Boston climbed to within striking distance for Pierce in the final seconds of regulation, and the Truth delivered with a clutch spinning jumper to send the game into overtime.
Pierce was even more deadly in overtime, methodically picking his spots and unleashing several money jumpers in the extra frame.
But Chicago still wouldn't go away.
Pierce hit a series of shots to put the Celtics up three with just over one minute to play, but Gordon was fouled on a three-pointer and responded with three clutch free-throws to tie it up.
Pierce would follow with a tough fadeaway jumper over John Salmons with 3.4 seconds left, but it still took a pair of missed free-throws by Chicago's Brad Miller to finally put the Bulls away.
If Boston does indeed take care of business in Game Six, or back home in Game Seven, they clearly know who to thank for preserving their championship defense, as Pierce once again put the Celtics on his back in a clutch situation, out-dueling yet another worthy adversary in Gordon and the Bulls in a critical game.
With this game, Pierce continues to add to his playoff legacy, and cement his status as one of the era's finest players.
While Kevin Garnett's maniacal defensive intensity and Ray Allen's picturesque jump shot get most of the attention, many of the biggest moments in Boston's recent playoff history have belonged to Pierce.
It was No. 34 who famously manned up against LeBron James in Game Seven of last season's Conference Semifinal Series against the Cavs, playing the superstar to an epic standstill as the Celts survived at home in the decisive game.
Pierce was also the driving force behind the Celtics monumental Game Four comeback against the Lakers in the Finals, playing Kobe Bryant ferociously as Boston rallied to steal the game, and the series from one of the best two-guards in the history of the game.
His defense on Bryant in the second half of that game set the tone for Boston and enabled them to commence their back-breaking comeback in L.A.
Unless KG can pull a Willis Reed or better, Pierce's stellar Game Five performance probably isn't going to lead to another championship banner being raised in Boston.
But for one night at least, Paul Pierce displayed the heart of a champion, and showed us all how beautiful the game can be when a great player simply refuses to let his team lose.
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