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Celtics’ Evan Turner recaptures some old college glory

The Celtics’ Evan Turner (right) was on the ball Friday night, scoring a game-high 30 points against the Magic.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

It was one of the signature moments in the 17-year history of the Big Ten tournament, a baby-faced Evan Turner draining a 37-foot buzzer-beating shot to lead top-seeded Ohio State over rival Michigan in the quarterfinals in March 2010.

It was the shot that clinched the National Player of the Year Award. It was the shot that catapulted him to an all-time great in Columbus, Ohio. It was the shot that lifted Turner to a lottery pick three months later.

And it is also a shot that Turner is still attempting to match. Five years later, Turner, his hair longer, his build thicker, his face scruffier, brought back shades of that player Friday night, scoring at will against the Orlando Magic at TD Garden, hitting clutch jumper after jumper to resuscitate a lifeless bunch of Celtics down the stretch.


Turner scored 16 fourth-quarter points in eight minutes on an array or runners and floaters. Mired in a slump in which he missed 80 of his 120 shot attempts since the All-Star break, and his first five Friday, Turner converted 12 of his final 15 shots, looking like an All-Star for this one night with a season-high 30 points.

The significance of that moment five years ago is not lost on Turner because he can't avoid it. The Big Ten Network shows the highlight as one of the intros to its tournament coverage. His family and friends remind him every March of that shot. Buckeye alumni mention his cold-blooded reaction after the winner while his teammates went into a frenzy.

Turner hasn't had those type of NBA moments, having been considered a disappointment after 3½ years in Philadelphia and a confounding stint with the then-Eastern Conference power Indiana Pacers. Turner is attempting to remake his image in Boston, and he doesn't have many nights like Friday, but it does exemplify that the player who dominated the Big Ten still exists.


"Man, where has time gone, everybody keeps saying I look like a baby when that occurred," he said after the Celtics' 95-88 comeback win over the Magic. "It doesn't feel like five years. That was a fun time."

Turner comprehends his NBA standing. He realizes there will be those in Philadelphia who lament the 76ers even drafting him over DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward, or Paul George. While those three are still with their original teams on long-term deals, Turner signed a two-year, $7.5 million deal with the Celtics to reprove himself.

"I was in a tough media city, so if you hear anything coming out, it was usually always negative," Turner said of Philadelphia. "I think the biggest thing is appreciating who I was. I think by the time I had developed and gotten better, people didn't appreciate it. So you kind of get out of that atmosphere into a different atmosphere and it becomes positives.

"They always say it's going to take four years for people to change perception of you and sometimes I get the brunt of things, where people just throw negativity at me. I know I'm a great player. I know not many people can do what I do on the court, even in my rough years in Philly, I was still was fortunate to average 14 or 15 points, 6 rebounds, and 4 assists and I still take great pride in having [enough guts] to play big in big moments and not many people could do that."


That 37-footer was perhaps the biggest moment, and Turner is not afraid of the challenge of a late-game shot. As Celtics fans have learned from the plethora of players who have passed through Boston in recent years, that clutch characteristic is rare.

When that shot went down from the right corner of the Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Turner stood stoic. Where chaos surrounded him, with coach Thad Matta screaming in delight at the scorer's table while an official instructed him back to the bench, Turner's expression didn't change.

"It was weird, I was shooting in the gym that week and I said, 'I feel like I'm going to make a big shot,' " he said. "So when I do, don't act like [an amateur]. When it occurred, I knew I was going to make the shot. My favorite quote is 'When they think they've won, that's when I crush them.' That was a big moment."

This five-year journey has been difficult, filled with doubters. He lives daily with being that second overall selection, and the doubters fuel him.

"A lot of people in my position kind of get drowned," he said. "They try to [figuratively] kill off people in my position. I keep bouncing back. The great thing I learned about Philly is comeback stories, like the story of Rocky. [Former 76ers assistant coach] Aaron McKie always told me the best stories are comeback stories. The best ones are the ones of struggle and triumph. They say legends are made out of vulnerable men, so I always try to remember that. As long as I keep breathing, I'll keep fighting."


The kid who hit that shot loved the game. For a stretch, Turner said he lost that love amid the negativity.

"At one point, I started listening to everybody else and I started hating everything I did," he said. "I love myself and what I do and I appreciate what I do and who I am."

Gary Washburn can be reached at gwashburn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GwashburnGlobe.