BOSTON - Last night, Paul Pierce, maker of countless jump shots, took his team's final jumper of the evening.
His Boston Celtics hadn't lost in weeks. And his opponent, the 76ers, had collected wins about as often as a landlord collects rent: once a month.
But there Pierce was, with time draining from the clock, shooting the mid-range fadeaway that Celtics fans have seen splash thousands of times.
Only this time, Pierce missed.
And it was this miss, followed by an errant, desperation turnaround from teammate Ray Allen at the buzzer, that secured the Sixers' 98-97 victory last night inside a sold out TD Garden.
"Truthfully?" said Sixers guard Willie Green of Pierce's last shot. "My heart sank a little bit. And I just froze. I don't know if there was, what, a couple of seconds left? But it felt like a minute. Thank God he missed it."
"Pierce?" said Sixers coach Eddie Jordan was asked about that last shot. "I even thought Ray Allen's shot was going to go: fallaway, probably bank shot. . . . That's [Pierce's] pet move, and that's his comfortable spot on the floor, right off the elbow. So he got where he wanted to go. But we had a break."
You can also thank Elton Brand for this one.
The win was the Sixers' first this season against a team with a winning record at the time of play.
It was the unlikeliest of victories: the Celtics, whose lead last night reached 15 points, were winners of 12 in a row; the Sixers were losers of 13 of 14, many of those losses from collapsing down the stretch.
But last night, beginning with 7 minutes, 18 seconds remaining until the end, neither team snagged more than a one-possession lead.
With 29.4 seconds remaining, Sixers center Marreese Speights made two free throws for a 96-95 lead. A few seconds later, Boston forward Kevin Garnett made a couple of his own, gaining back a 97-96 advantage.
But then came Brand, as he did all night, rebounding and then scoring.
The Sixers gave the ball to Speights, isolating him at the right elbow. Speights' jumper missed. But with 7.7 seconds left, Brand tipped in the rebound: They were the final rebound and points of Brand's 23-point, 8-rebound evening.
Boston, led by Garnett's 21 points, immediately called timeout. A minute later, the Celtics were inbounding, eventually finding Pierce.
"We made some great plays down the end, some big plays, and for a long time we've lost these type of games," said Jordan.
In the locker room afterward - a much happier place than it has recently been - Green said that finally, at the end of a game, the Sixers caught a bounce.
"I thought I got a good look at the rim," said Pierce, who finished with only 9 points on 4-of-13 shooting. "It felt good coming off my hands, but sometimes the ball bounces off that way, you know? Tough one to swallow."