No one needed the rest more than Paul Pierce .
And no one appreciated the titanic effort of Kevin Garnett  than Pierce, either.
Pierce played a gutsy 40 minutes on a sprained left knee, recording 18 points, five rebounds and seven assists. He knew more than anyone else the need to finish off the Hawks Thursday and get ready for the 76ers on Saturday night at the Garden in Game 1 of the Eastern semis.
Everyone on the Celtics  knew the M*A*S*H report coming in: Pierce’s knee, Avery Bradley  (left shoulder), Kevin Garnett (hip flexor) and Ray Allen  (left ankle). Everyone knew that going back to Atlanta wasn’t a viable option.
‘That’s the beauty of this team,” Pierce said. “When you got four guys, Kevin, myself, Rondo and Ray, it’s never on one person’s back. Kevin tonight obviously carried the low post, offensively and defensively, like he has for years. And we all take pressure off each other. And it was just beautiful to watch and beautiful to be apart of. You know and I’m glad I have the opportunity to play with a guy like that.”
So how did Pierce feel after his 40 minutes, guarding Josh Smith on a knee that would’ve likely sidelined him in the regular season?
‘A little tired and sore,” Pierce said. “You know, I played a lot of minutes, had to guard one of the toughest 1-on-1 players in the league all night. You know that’s the nature of this beast. You’ve got to be ready to bounce back Saturday, one day of play, one day of rest. You know this is it, this is it. We might never have this opportunity again.’
The reward for Thursday’s 83-80 closeout win in Game 6? A date with Philly Saturday night with just one day to lick their wounds.
‘It feels good,” Pierce said. “You know we have to enjoy it here tonight and get right back at it, thinking about Philadelphia.’
Toughness is a word you’re going to hear a lot in the next week. Philadelphia became the fifth No. 8 seed in NBA playoff history to eliminate a No. 1, though they had the advantage of not dealing with Derrick Rose  for five games and Yoakim Noah for the last three. They led by 12 in the third quarter and trailed by three with 30 seconds to go.
They found a way to win when Andre Iguodala  hit a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds remains for a 79-78 win over the Bulls in South Philly. Just moments later, 250 miles northeast, the Celtics had nearly the identical thing happen. They led by nine with eight minutes left. Trailed by three with two minutes left and found a way to win.
‘We’ve been through that, we’re not a team who’s going to panic in a close game,” Pierce said. “We were down [three]. We just picked it up. We got a couple stops, executed our offense, set a couple screens and hoped things would go our way. We’re not a team that’s going to panic, just being in that situation a number of times. You know, I didn’t look up and say we’re going to Atlanta again. We play through the clock. Until you see the double zeros up there its never over.
‘We’re playing like this is it. This could be our last chance together, so we’re going to give it one last run and then see what happens.’