There was no question, if this was Jason Terry’s final appearance at TD Garden as a Celtic, if the team decides to include him in an expected slew of offseason moves, he was going to exit with brashness.
So on the fast break in overtime Sunday against the New York Knicks, when he could have penetrated to the hoop for a layup or drawn a foul, Terry pulled up a foot behind the 3-point line, unleashing a long-range shot with supreme confidence.
The result? Swish.
Swishes have been rare this season for Terry, signed to a three-year deal to essentially replace Ray Allen. He has turned out to be a defensive liability and erratic shooter. Yet, when the Knicks were stopping the Celtics’ halfcourt offense like Patrick Roy circa 1993, the Terry of old stepped in, scoring the final 9 points as the Celtics lived at least one more game with a 97-90 win.
The game was tied at 88 when Jeff Green gathered an Iman Shumpert 3-point miss and flipped it crosscourt to Terry. He dribbled toward Jason Kidd, who sensed his former Mavericks teammate was going to pull up.
“Whether I miss five in a row or made five, Doc [Rivers] said that’s my shot, and for years that’s been my shot,” Terry said. “Been real reluctant this season to take it for whatever reason, but it’s no hesitancy now. What do you have to lose? So that’s where that confidence is.”
Terry was signed with the express purpose of hitting open 3-pointers, adding energy, and hitting significant shots in the postseason. But before Game 4, Terry was best known in this series for getting beat on defense by fellow 30-something Pablo Prigioni and being the recipient of an elbow to the chin by New York’s J.R. Smith in Game 3, causing a one-game suspension.
Sunday was vintage Terry, the one who peppered the Miami Heat with jumpers in the 2011 NBA Finals, the fireball who plays with fearlessness, not anxiety, who approaches the moment with vigor, not hesitancy.
“He was great,” Rivers said. “You know, that’s what he does. He’s made so many big shots in his career. It’s amazing, you know, you guys don’t get to see it, but when you watch all the guys, and not just Jason Terry, but when you watch them practice on the floor on their own, they work on certain shots. And that’s the shot, that transition three is something he works on all the time. And you knew once he got it what he was going to do. I thought it was interesting when you watch the play, I thought Jason Kidd knew it, too. Because you could see him coming from the basket, from them playing with each other. So it was a big shot.”
Maybe it’s too late, but Terry is hoping this performance propels him for the remainder of the series. He was infuriated by the Smith elbow and also the New York showboating at the conclusion of its 90-76 Game 3 victory. It didn’t take long for Terry to verbally assault his opponents, talking trash to Carmelo Anthony just moments into Sunday’s game.
While Terry hasn’t backed up his words this season as often as in the past, he still gives the Celtics a semblance of the swagger they have lost over the past few years. This was a team expected to compete for the championship and it has been relegated to clinging to fleeting hopes of extending this series. The Knicks were playing without their second-leading scorer in Smith but it hardly mattered — the Celtics were determined to extend this series and Terry, like his team, gathered himself and produced as expected.
Terry scored 18 points, his most in a month, and he added four assists. He has convinced himself that there remains time to make an impact after a season’s worth of unfulfilled expectations.
“It’s a long series, that’s all I keep telling myself,” he said. “It really hasn’t [gone well] as far as a production standpoint [this season]. I take it personal. I’m supposed to provide the spark every night off the bench and it’s been real inconsistent, but again it’s been an adjustment. And I think that was the biggest thing I didn’t realize. Maybe I was too gullible or too optimistic, but I thought it would happen right away.
“It hasn’t. I signed a three-year deal. Now I’m here.”
The significance of Terry’s outburst wasn’t lost on his teammates, who fully realize he hasn’t met expectations this season. They are banking that the Terry who emerged Sunday sticks around for a while, at least long enough to make this series intriguing.
“Jet has proved to be a big-time performer in big-stage situations,” forward Paul Pierce said. “Down the stretch he really opened up the game. Jet, that’s pretty much what he’s been his whole career. We just got to continue to look for him in those situations. He’s got to be our X-factor. Guys are going to load up to me, load up to Kevin. He’s got to be our X-factor. We depend on him for that.”
Terry may have decided to show up to the party after midnight, but at least he’s in the house. Celtics fans got to see a sliver of the clutch player from yesteryear and now comes his biggest game as a Celtic, Game 5 at Madison Square Garden Wednesday, where the surroundings won’t be so friendly and Terry will return to a villain role.
“You gotta love it,” he said with a bright smile. “This is what the playoffs is all about. The intensity. The game. Maybe that’s what we were waiting on. We should have just fast-forwarded it to [an elimination game] and realize that if we lost it’s over. But that’s the type of pressure we’re up against and they know all they need is one game, and that’s all we need — to keep our season going.”Gary Washburn can be reached at email@example.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @gwashNBAGlobe.