Rarely has someone who failed to score a point made such an impact on a basketball game.
Mickael Pietrus played 24 minutes, and missed all three of his field goal attempts, which happened to be 3-pointers. He even bounced both of his free throw tries off the rim, going scoreless for the first time this series.
But Pietrus, arguably, made three of the biggest plays in overtime of Game 4 Sunday night - not to mention another at the end of regulation - helping the Celtics square the Eastern Conference finals with a pulsating overtime victory against Miami at TD Garden, 93-91.
Pietrus got his hands on the caroms of two errant shots by his teammates on the same possession, a pair of offensive rebounds that enabled the Celtics to run more than a minute off the clock in the extra session while clinging to a 92-91 lead.
The Celtics initially got possession when Pietrus drew a foul on Heat star LeBron James, his sixth, which forced him to the bench for the final 1 minute 51 seconds. With James watching from the sideline, Pietrus extended the ensuing Celtics possession twice. They didn’t score, but did slice a minute off the clock to shorten the game.
The stat line for Pietrus might not be pretty. But it was definitely gritty, and gritty ruled the day.
“Offensively I wasn’t able to get into a rhythm, so I think I gave up my offense for the benefit of the team,’’ Pietrus said. “So I’m just trying to do other things, like defense, try to play good defense on LeBron and [Dwyane Wade], and try to get a couple of rebounds.
“The last two were huge. Sometimes that’s what it takes to win basketball games.’’
Pietrus drew the defensive assignment on James for the Heat’s final possession in regulation. With the game tied at 89, James had the ball, looking to drive or to create enough space to launch a winning jump shot. But Pietrus allowed neither, forcing James to make a soft bounce pass to Udonis Haslem, whose hurried shot drew nothing but air as the horn sounded. On to overtime.
With the Celtics leading by 1 and the overtime clock dipping under two minutes, Rajon Rondo missed a layup, and the Heat raced back the other way, looking to take the lead. As a long pass was sent James’s way, he and Pietrus both fell to the floor, with referee Joe Crawford immediately blowing his whistle. The foul was called on James, and for the first time in more than four years he had fouled out of a game.
“Defense can win basketball games. I was just trying to play hard,’’ Pietrus said. “Sometimes people respect your work, and that’s what they did.’’
With James gone, Pietrus used the Celtics’ ensuing possession to showcase his rebounding skills. Ray Allen put up a 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down, missed, but Pietrus was there for the rebound. Kevin Garnett then put up his own 3-pointer to beat the shot clock, also missed, but Pietrus was there again. Garnett missed for a third time, and the errant shot was rebounded by Haslem. No points for the Celtics, but the clock went from 1:51 left to 45 seconds. The Celtics still had their lead, and would withstand one final attempt by Miami, with Wade’s 3-point bid at the buzzer rimming out.
The Celtics had six players score in double figures, and both teams lost stars (James, Paul Pierce for the Celtics) to disqualification due to fouls. Of the 17 players who logged at least one minute, only one didn’t score a point. But with defense and timely rebounding, Pietrus could be considered Game 4’s unsung hero.
“There’s other ways to affect a game outside of scoring,’’ said Celtic sub Keyon Dooling (10 points). “I think [coach] Doc [Rivers] said this before the playoffs started: He said, ‘When what you do isn’t working, what can you bring to the team to help the team?’
“[Pietrus’s] defense was amazing tonight, on LeBron, on Wade, his offensive rebounds were huge for us. There’s ways you can contribute without scoring.’’