At its simplest, sports games are a series of moments. A fast ball to home plate. A face-off in the red zone. A 35-yard field goal attempt. Most times, the action of these moments are rendered insignificant by successive plays. But other times, these moments have a far-reaching effect on not only that game, but also a season, a career, a legacy. Sometimes, such a moment seems to transcend the oppressively restrictive time-space continuum, and its impact is felt long after that moment has passed. Sometimes, such a moment becomes the stuff of legend.
Dwayne Wade misses a game-winning shot at the buzzer. Paul Pierce drills a 3 in the face of LeBron James with under a minute to play.
Taken together, the Boston Celtics are now up 3-2 against the heavily-favored but so-easily-abhorred Miami Heat, and have a chance to advance to the NBA Finals with a Game 6 win on the fabled parquet floor of the Boston Garden.
(Pierce's game-clinching trey appears 1:45 into the video above.)
Pierce's shot may have been an ill-advised one, if he had missed it. But he saw the opportunity, and created a moment that, in giving the Celtics a 4 point lead with some 50 seconds left in the game, put the Green in command of the always pivotal Game 5.
"I kind of wanted him to drive, honestly," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "I thought he was going to drive it, but he made it. That's what players like Paul do. It really is. He's a big shot-maker. He always has been."
This is Pierce's legacy.
"I've been around Paul long enough," continued Rivers. "Right when he gets into the footwork, you knew he was going to shoot it. At least I did, because I've seen him enough."
If James had been guarding Pierce a little closer, the shot would not have been there, and Pierce would have been forced to drive to the basket, or pass the ball. The moment would have been a different one. But Pierce saw his opening, and he took his shot (pun intended).
"I saw [James] back up, he gave me a step," Pierce explained. "It was in my range, the shot clock was running down. I just took the shot."
And he "just" hit a game-clinching, possibly series-clinching, thus-far team-defining shot. Which, if the Celtics hang on to win the series, will indeed go down in sports history as the proverbial nail-in-the-coffin of the Miami Heat. The stuff of legend.
After the game, analysts were already speculating whether or not the team from South Beach is capable of winning the Big Game as presently constituted.
So much is held in that transcending moment when the leather ball spirals toward a 10-foot rim.
"Had [Wade's potentially winning] shot stayed on line, we'd be lamenting a lost opportunity for Boston," writes Jackie MacMullen, "and projecting their season to be as good as done. We'd be talking about fatigue and age and the death of the Big Four and the brilliance of Wade in the face of pressure.
"But since Wade's shot rolled around and out at the buzzer ... there will be questions about Miami's fortitude, their ability to close out a series and their inability to thwart the resiliency of the wily old men in green."
"The miss provides Boston with new answers, and Miami with new questions," surmises MacMullen.
Respective team conditions that have been greatly enhanced by the action of Game 5.
Will Wade's miss and Pierce's make hold up as the shots that ended the Heat's season and led the Celtics to the NBA Finals?
Watch for the next big moment to find out.