Paul Pierce stood behind the three-point line, clutching the ball in his hands. He was about to show his new Clippers teammates why the fourth quarter is often known as the moment of Truth.
The veteran forward made a 26-foot jumper. Then he made another 26-footer on the Clippers’ next possession. He stepped back the slightest bit the next time his team had the ball for a 27-footer.
Three possessions. Sixty seconds on the game clock. A trio of three-pointers.
It felt like an encore performance to Pierce’s coach.
“I’ve seen that act before,” said Coach Doc Rivers, who previously guided Pierce for nine seasons that yielded one NBA title with the Boston Celtics.
Pierce would add one more three-pointer before the end of the Clippers’ wild 115-109 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday night at Staples Center in their final preseason game, finishing with 19 points in only 24 minutes.
His fourth quarter was a reminder that the team now has another proven closer besides point guard Chris Paul. Pierce played all 12 minutes and tallied 14 points while making five of six shots — including four of five three-pointers — to go with three assists, one rebound and one blocked shot as the Clippers completed their epic comeback from a 35-point deficit in the first half.
“That’s why they call him The Truth,” Clippers forward Josh Smith said, referring to Pierce’s nickname.
Pierce’s clutch shooting was one of the primary reasons the Clippers eagerly signed him last summer to a three-year, $10.5-million contract that amounted to a steep discount over what Pierce could have made to stay with the Washington Wizards or join another team.
What might have resonated even more than a crazy quarter by a former NBA Finals most valuable player against the Trail Blazers was his voice after the game.
“He was yelling at us,” Clippers guard Austin Rivers said of Pierce, “ ‘That’s got to be us all year!’”
Said Pierce: “Whenever we get down throughout the year, I’m going to go back and refer to this game.”
There are times when Pierce can seem even older because of his tendency to move with the urgency of a slug.
“He just does nothing fast, so you don’t think he is quick, you don’t think he can jump and yet he can,” said Rivers, who also intends to use Pierce at power forward this season. “I mean, he was getting shots on 24-year-olds [Thursday]. He just knows how to score; he’s a professional scorer.”
Pierce’s ability to free himself for shots while being guarded by more spry defenders is no mystery to his teammates.
“He’s probably one of the best footwork small forwards of all time,” Austin Rivers said. “People on the [Portland] bench are yelling, ‘Step back!’ and he still gets it because he has counters to everything.”
Doc Rivers said the question surrounding Pierce when he entered the NBA in 1998 out of Kansas and Inglewood High was whether he could keep up at small forward because of an alleged lack of athleticism. Seventeen years later, Pierce is still dunking on his teammates in practice.
He’s also staying upbeat about a possible role coming off the bench after starting 1,240 of his 1,250 games in the league.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Austin Rivers noted, “and if he hasn’t said a word about it, I’m sure not complaining.”
Pierce acknowledged the need to reinvent himself a bit as he nears the end of his career, becoming more crafty to compensate for a decline in quickness. Not that Pierce thinks he’s incapable of generating more highlights.
“I don’t feel like I’m underestimated,” Pierce said. “I don’t know what the other team thinks, but I’m sure they have YouTube.”