Making the Big Shot

Share
Share
Paul Pierce, Forward / Los Angeles Clippers - The Players' Tribune

3… 2… 1… take a shot.

Anybody who played basketball in any capacity has taken a game-winning shot — whether it’s during a game, on the playground or just in their mind while daydreaming.

Whenever I’ve been put in a situation where the game is on the line and I know that the ball will be in my hands, I’ve always tried to visualize how I want everything to play out. Having a positive mindset helps me relax during high-pressure situations.

Visualize. Execute.

I’ve been fortunate to take a lot of shots with the game on the line throughout my career, and I’ve been even more fortunate to make quite a few of them. But the one game-winning shot that stands out more than any other occurred during the 2010 regular season, when we beat the Knicks in front of a packed crowd at Madison Square Garden.

That 2010 meeting stands out because, while the rivalry was always there, this was New York’s first competitive team in several years. They had a very athletic roster that presented a unique challenge for us.

The game occurred in December, but it might as well have been May. It was a playoff atmosphere.

I got introduced, and, to no surprise, I was booed. I dribble, I’m booed. I score, I’m booed. I blink, I’m booed. Spike Lee is on the sideline talking trash. I love it all. I thrive in those environments.

Paul Pierce

I remember that it was a tie game and we were in a timeout going over the play. All I could think about was breaking the heart of every Knicks fan in that building. I knew how much they hated me — I could almost feel it during games — and it gave me energy. Boston and New York have always had a love-hate relationship because the cities are so similar but so different. People love their sports in New York. People love their sports in Boston. And people in New York and Boston love to hate on each other.

Most of the time when you’re given a play during the timeout, you have a few options; Sometimes I take the shot, sometimes I pass to the guy who takes the shot, or I set the screen that puts the play in motion. But whenever I exit the huddle, the only thing I know for certain is that in some way or form I’m going to have my fingerprints on what transpires.

For this play, Rondo was inbounding the ball. We ran a high screen and roll, which is something KG and I would frequently run at the end of games. Our goal was to get a favorable matchup by hopefully making the defense switch, which might result in the center coming out to guard me, or having myself double-teamed and then passing it off to Kevin. We won plenty of games like that.

I get the ball at the top of the three-point line. Everybody in the arena is on their feet.

I come off the screen and it’s a switch. Now I have Amare Stoudemire gaurding me. Because he’s a center, and a little bigger and slower, I know I’m taking the shot.

While I always picture the ball going in prior to the play, I don’t really know what I’m going to do beforehand to make that happen. Sports aren’t scripted. The great players thrive on their instincts.

So I took my time, let the clock wind down. When the game is tied, you really want to make sure that you are, in fact, taking the last shot. You don’t want a Derek Fisher with .4 seconds left happening to you (and, interestingly, it almost did happen to us this game).

I’ve been practicing for this situation my entire life, so I knew exactly when to make my move. Five seconds. Four seconds. I see an opening and start driving to the basket, but Amare cuts it off. Two seconds. I step back, using my body to lean off of him and create space. Then all I see is the basket. I take the shot.

Swish.

Some guys have a signature touchdown dance. Some guys have their specific trot after they hit a home run. In basketball, you never really know what you’re going to do after you make “the big shot.” Sometimes you’ll run and high-five teammates, maybe you’ll give a pose to the crowd. I don’t know what I’ll do after I make a game-winning shot, but I’m always going to do something.

After I hit this shot, I just started doing a victory lap. There was a time out and I was still running around the arena, taking in all of the heartbroken faces in the crowd.

The feeling is unmatched because, for me, making that shot in front of packed crowd at the Garden is as big as it gets. So many great players have come from there, nobody can really question that it’s the mecca of basketball.

After the final buzzer blew, I took a bow at mid-court.

Spike Lee didn’t care for it.

Whenever I win a game in that fashion, I feel like I’m going to hyperventilate. My adrenaline is through the roof and my heart is beating out of my chest. It is the ultimate basketball high.

Hitting a big shot on the road is especially satisfying because of the opposing fans reactions. The shock. The disbelief. So many people in New York tell me, “I hate you, but I love you.” And I get it. I feel the same way about them.

I can never sleep the night after hitting a game-winning shot. My adrenaline is flowing. I keep constantly replaying it in my mind. I’ll get home and it’s 1:30 am. Then all of the sudden it’s 5:00 am and I’ll still be up watching SportsCenter highlights. And, not even gonna lie, I’m definitely checking the Internet and taking in all the love on Twitter. I know a lot of the great players who read fan comments, good and bad, for motivation.

The rush I feel carries over to the next few games because my confidence will be so high. There really is no better feeling.

But, on the other hand, missing the big shot … well, that’s an entirely different story.

This is Part Two of my two-part series on taking the big shot. You can read Part One here.

One Bad Game

It only took one visit to Lawrence, Kansas to convince me that I wanted to be a Jayhawk. I wanted to win a national championship there. And my sophomore year, I really thought it was going to happen.

Read More