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This Photo From a 2010 Celtics-Knicks Game Is Worth a Thousand Words

Musings on a vintage flick of the Big Three—plus Nate Robinson

Paul Pierce running, Kevin Garnett bowing, and Nate Robinson on the floor of the court after a 2010 Celtics game-winner John Angelillo/UPI

One of the best modern NBA photographs is this one, which was taken by John Angelillo near the very end of a Celtics-Knicks game on December 15, 2010:


There is a saying, and I’m sure you’re familiar with it because everyone is familiar with it, and it’s actually so clichéd that I’m almost embarrassed to even write it out: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” I mention it right now because let’s do that: Let’s do exactly 1,000 words about this photo, starting now:

The same photo with only Kevin Garnett highlighted

Kevin Garnett

Four things here:

  1. Garnett is the second-best part of this whole picture, mostly because he’s bowing despite the fact that it was Pierce who made the game-winner and not him. (Garnett did score eight points in the fourth quarter, so I guess there’s that.)
  2. I hope that KG celebrates all sorts of things by bowing. Like, I hope that he bows when he makes a birthday cake or after he gets his prostate examined and the doctor tells him everything looks good.
  3. I’ll bet KG’s prostate is fucking intense. It’s probably in there just talking all kinds of shit to the other glands and whatnot.
  4. As far as post-shot celebrations go, The Bow is an elite selection. It’s up there with The Throat Slash and The Big Balls Dance. The only time The Big Balls Dance wasn’t cool was when Hedo Turkoglu did it in 2008 and somehow got the hands wrong. And the all-time coolest Big Balls Dance instance was when Pedro Cerrano did it in Major League 2.
The same photo with only Paul Pierce’s shoes highlighted

The Feet

To me, it looks like each of the players here is wearing the same kind of shoes. That’s not the case, though. They’re all different. Garnett is wearing a pair called the Anta KG 1 PEs, Paul Pierce is wearing the Nike Air Legacy 2 PEs, Ray Allen is wearing the Air Jordan Icons PEs, and Nate Robinson is wearing the Nike LeBron 8s. That’s information that you’re either super duper interested in knowing (because you love sneakers) or it’s information that you really just don’t care at all about (because you are a normal person).

(I’m, of course, being silly.)

(Did you know that the secondary sneaker market, which is where collectors buy and sell shoes to each other, has been a billion-dollar business since 2015?)

(It’s honestly incredible.)

(Still, someone telling me the name of a bunch of different types of shoes is like when someone tries to talk to me about the parts in a car engine or when my 4-year-old son spends 10 minutes telling me about a rock he found at school that looked like a bug. It’s powerful information, I’m sure, but it’s just that I’m not advanced enough to understand it.)

The same photo with Paul Pierce’s shoes highlighted

Paul Pierce

Pierce is celebrating because he’s just hit what would end up being the game-winner. The setting: The Celtics had the ball with about 12 seconds left in regulation (it was tied 116-116). They decided to run that Paul Pierce Isolation Play that they would always run in those kinds of moments. Rondo inbounded the ball to Pierce, then Pierce and Garnett went through a pick-and-roll motion that got Amar’e Stoudemire onto Pierce. Then Pierce went to work. He went between the legs, did a tiny crossover, then charged toward Amar’e’s left. Amar’e, who’s much bigger than Pierce, did a good job of staying attached to him, but it turned out that that’s exactly what Pierce wanted Amar’e to do. Pierce hit the brakes on Amar’e, Amar’e’s goggles melted off of his face, then Pierce hopped back and pulled up for an easy 14-footer.

Prior to the game, reporters had been asking about whether or not Celtics-Knicks was a rivalry (the Knicks were on an eight-game winning streak at the time, and the Celtics were on a 10-game winning streak and also had the best record in the Eastern Conference). Pierce said no, that it wasn’t a rivalry, and he said so in a way that was very dismissive and almost giggly. (“It’s a rivalry?” he asked, smiling.) Then, after hitting that final jumper, he jogged up the Madison Square Garden court past the Knicks sideline, then past his own bench, then back down around the other side of the court, then back past the Knicks bench again, then finally made his way to the Celtics huddle. He did a real, actual, literal victory lap like he was a human NASCAR, which is exactly the kind of thing someone does when they want you to know that they don’t think very highly of you. I already miss Paul Pierce a lot.

The same photo with nothing highlighted

Amar’e Stoudemire

He’s actually not pictured here.* Tough last few moments for him in the game. He missed a 17-footer that could’ve given the Knicks a four-point lead with 1:39 to go, missed a four-footer that could’ve given the Knicks a two-point lead with 13 seconds to go, got scored on by Pierce with 0.4 seconds left, then, following a timeout, he fired up a 3 at the buzzer that went in but was waved off by the referees because he shot it too late.

*I’m choosing to talk about Amar’e as a way to ignore Ray Allen, which is what the Celtics have done ever since he left Boston.

The same photo with Nate Robinson highlighted

Nate Robinson

Two things here:

  1. Nate’s on the floor because he tried to jump on Pierce’s back as he celebrated but Pierce just kept right on cruising along without him. Nate celebrating so hard that he nearly kills himself is a pretty good metaphor for his career. Possessing that sort of core-of-the-sun energy level is the only way someone who’s 5-foot-9 gets to suit up for more than 600 games in the NBA over an 11-year period. I don’t have a core-of-the-sun energy level. I’m more, like, maybe on a 40w-light-bulb energy level.
  2. Nate actually did the exact same type of celebration in the Finals six months earlier with Glen Davis. It worked out way better because it ended like this, which was fantastic and exciting:
Nate Robinson celebrating with his arms around Glen Davis

and not like this, which was terrifying (and then hilarious after we saw he was OK):

Nate Robinson jumping over Paul Pierce’s back

The same photo with a coach in the background highlighted

The “This Motherfucker” Guy

He’s the first-best part of the picture. That’s the exact posture and face someone makes when they see someone doing a thing they don’t like except they’re unable to do anything about it, and so all that ends up happening is they just stand there watching everything and thinking, “This motherfucker.”