Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics came to Orlando on Sunday for Games 1 and 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals, hoping to take one of two games and steal home court advantage.
But they'll gladly take the alternative that Tuesday night's Game 2 yielded.
The Truth scored 28 points, including the first nine of the game for Boston, to lead the Celtics to a 95-92 victory. And just like that, the Celtics owned a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Finals.
"This is big, just getting two road wins in a hostile environment against one of the best home crowds in all of basketball," No. 34 said after the victory. "It ranks right up there because I've never been on a team where we went on the road for a seven-game series and one the first two on the road. I thought we could come in here and get one and once we got that, I felt we could come out and get another."
Paul's hot hand got the Celts out to a lead from the get-go as he dropped three jumpers and a pair of free throws to give Boston a 9-5 lead in the first 2:08 of the game.
Paul gets fouled by Dwight Howard -- a foul ultimately judged flagrant (Getty Images).
Just as he had in Game 1 of the series, the Truth opened scoring early. In the first game, he nailed a three to give Boston a 3-0 lead. Tuesday, he drilled a picturesque fadeaway jumper to put Boston ahead 2-0. Following a miss by Orlando at the other end, Paul drove to the bucket and drew a foul on Vince Carter. The pair of free throws gave the Celtics a 4-0 lead.
Orlando tied the score at four and took a brief 5-4 lead on a free throw by Matt Barnes, but No. 34 quickly answered with his first three-pointer of the game to make it 7-5.
After a Kendrick Perkins block and rebound, the Truth buried a 19-footer in transition to give his Celts a 9-5 lead. Paul talked after Sunday's game and at Monday's practice about being more aggressive and he asserted himself early and often in Game 2.
"I think I'm a better player when I'm more aggressive. I just play on my instincts, get to my spot and work within the framework of our offense. When I'm aggressive like that, I don't think there's anybody in the NBA that can guard me," The Truth said of his hot start. "I think I have good enough instincts to know what I want to do out there on the court and just keep going."
The Magic briefly took a 10-9 lead when Matt Barnes punctuated a 5-0 run with a fast break dunk. But Kendrick Perkins gave the Celts the lead back, 11-10 at the 8:19 mark, with a layup, the first points for a Boston player not named Paul Pierce. Boston reeled off an 11-2 run to take a 20-12 lead and No. 34 gave the Celtics their first double digit edge of the game with 4:43 remaining in the first quarter when he buried his second three-pointer of the night, a 25-footer that gave Boston a 23-12 lead.
With 12 points in the first eight minutes, the Truth let it be known that after committing himself to defending LeBron James in the semifinals, he was ready to once again be an offensive difference maker for the Cs.
"The big difference is that I don't have to guard LeBron James," Paul said. "When I sat at home before that series, I'm watching so much LeBron, how to play him defensively, that you forget about the offense. I have an opportunity to be a little more aggressive in this series than I did last series since I don't have such a huge defensive responsibility.
"That's not to take anything away from Vince [Carter]. Vince is a great talent and he's known for having great games, but you're talking about playing the best player in the league. It's tough, physically and mentally. I thought after that series I'd have a little more free reign to be a little more offensive."
Paul finished the first with 12 points on 4-5 from the field and grabbed two boards. After sitting down for the first three minutes of the second frame, No. 34 reentered the game and kept the good times rolling.
Orlando had actually retaken the lead in his absence, but Boston came right back and led by four when he returned. The Magic chopped the lead down to one, but Paul single handedly pushed it back up to four, converting a technical free throw as a result of a defensive three second by the Magic, then popping a 14-foot fadeaway on the subsequent possession to make it 37-33.
Celebrating the Game 2 victory (Getty Images).
HARD TO THE HOLE
Orlando would eventually take a 42-41 lead but Ray Allen sank a free throw to tie it at 42. With the score tied and 4:16 remaining in the half, No. 34 drove the baseline hard and was fouled on his way up by Dwight Howard, who continued his arm right through Paul's face. Paul was angered by the blow and got up to confront Howard but was restrained by his teammates. Howard was whistled for a flagrant 1 foul.
Though he was angry in the heat of the moment, The Truth explained after the game that he didn't feel the foul was a cheap shot by any means.
"That was a good foul, a playoff foul. It didn't warrant an ejection," No. 34 noted. "When you get to the playoffs you have to expect hard fouls. It's going both ways. You look up, we got 29 personal fouls, they have 25. You have to expect it to be physical. You take your lumps, keep your composure, and keep moving on. It' that type of game."
Paul sank 1 of his 2 free throws and drew another after the Celtics grabbed the rebound, drew another foul on Mickael Pietrus and went 1 of 2 again to give Boston a 44-42 lead. Howard tied the score with a layup but No. 34 came right back to the bucket and was awarded a layup when Howard was ruled to have goaltended Paul's shot.
A hook shot by Howard tied the score yet again, but with 2:41 left in the half, Paul ended the back and forth with a 26-foot triple to give Boston a 49-46 lead. They went into the locker room ahead by only two at 53-51 and 22 of their 53 points had come from No. 34.
Entering the third quarter, Paul and the Celtics were unimpressed by their own lead and turned up their intensity.
"We said to ourselves that we had to take it up another notch because it wasn't going to be easy," No. 34 said. "We just pushed it up and put more energy into the second half. Since the playoffs started we've been playing pretty well in the third quarter. At least the last few games, that's been our quarter. We come out aggressive. Especially on the road, you have to because you have to expect the other team to come out with a lot of energy."
Boston pushed their lead as high as 10 points in the third. Paul scored four points in the quarter, all of them late as the Celtics closed in on a 2-0 series lead. He sank a pair of shots from the free throw line with 2:20 to go and made it a nine-point game with 1:05 left in the third when his turnaround jumper from 15-feet splashed down for two more.
The Truth added two more points in the fourth, but they wouldn't come until the most crucial moment. Boston clung tight to its lead for as long as it could, but when Vince Carter buried a jump shot with 3:36 to go, the Magic took a 90-89 lead, their first since the 10:05 mark of the third.
Boston clawed back yet again. Garnett hit a fade away with 2:45 to go to give the Cs a 91-90 lead and Rondo popped a jumper with 1:33 to go to make it a three-point game. Jameer Nelson answered with a bucket for the Magic with 55.8 seconds remaining to make it 93-92. But JJ Redick fouled Paul on Boston's subsequent possession and with 34.7 seconds left, The Truth put the game's final points on the board with a pair of free throws, finishing off a 95-92 victory.
NOT OVER YET
Despite his team holding a commanding a 2-0 lead as they head home for Games 3 and 4 of the series on Saturday and Monday, No. 34 said the Celtics aren't booking their plans for the NBA Finals yet.
"The only thing we’ve did was win two games. In order to get to the NBA Finals, you have to win four," Paul said. "This a team that doesn't take that stuff for granted or get overjoyed for two wins. This is a great Orlando Magic team, they've proven it all year long.
"They definitely have talent and you can't take these things for granted. We still have to put our hard hat on, even though we're going home because home isn't necessarily a place that we've played well all season long. Hopefully we keep our same intensity and take it up to another level at home."
Boston and Orlando tangle in Game 3 on Saturday night at TD Garden. Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. EST and the game can be seen on ESPN.