When Jason Terry signed with the Celtics in the offseason, he envisioned being the guy who would close out games with his shooting. In his words, “The uniform may change, but my game doesn’t.”
The 35-year-old had made a career out of doing it to that point, so it’s safe to say he was champing at the bit for the opportunity to make the shot that either gave the C’s the final lead or proved to be the dagger in a game going down to the wire.
Terry got that opportunity in his 13th game as a Celtic, when, with the C’s holding onto a five-point lead in the final minute of the game against the Thunder, he took a pass from Rajon Rondo and hit a three-pointer to put the final nail in the coffin and make it 106-98 with 51 seconds remaining.
Hitting a big shot is nothing new for Terry, who is fourth on the all-time three-point list with 1,808.
“I’ve been making a living off shots like that my entire career,” Terry said. “I’m never scared of the moment.”
Fourteen years into his career, there hasn’t been too much to suggest that Terry should be afraid of taking the shot when it matters most. So what makes Terry programmed to want the ball in that instance? Surprisingly enough, it’s a past failure from some 20 years ago that has stuck with him ever since.
Terry says that when he was a sophomore at Franklin High School in Seattle in the early 90s, he took the final shot with the game on the line in the state tournament and missed, ending the careers of many of his teammates on a senior-heavy team.
Terry has used that missed shot as motivation ever since, as he says the play taught him to be confident, make or miss.
“My coach always told me, ‘You’ve got big balls to take a shot when you’re the only sophomore on the team and we’ve got all seniors,’” Terry recalled. “It basically ended their careers, but it gave me confidence in mine for the rest of my time.”
Since then, Terry’s put that memory to good use, and his ability to sink shots in the clutch earned him his first NBA championship in 2011. With the series tied at two games apiece and the Mavericks narrowly holding onto a four-point lead in the final minute of Game 5, Terry hit a deep three to make it a seven-point game with 33.3 seconds remaining and seal the victory for Dallas. In the series-clinching Game 6, his pull-up jumper for two points in the final two minutes extended Dallas’ lead to 12 points as the Mavericks and Terry went on to win their first NBA title.
Still early in his Celtic career, Terry hadn’t really gotten to make a big shot for the C’s yet, but he knew the time would come. On the season, five of his 20 three-pointers (he’s attempted 47) have come in the fourth quarter, though none of them were of the magnitude of Friday night’s dagger. His late three on Friday was the first three-pointer Terry had made in the fourth quarter since Nov. 9 against the 76ers, a span of eight games.
Now Terry looks forward to making many more big shots in games that matter down the stretch. After all, this is the same guy who already has a tattoo of the Lucky the Leprechaun with the Larry O’Brien trophy on his bicep. Terry wants to win, and he wants to be the one who closes out wins. All these years later, he owes that mentality to his missed shot as a sophomore in high school.
“Sometimes through your biggest failures, you [achieve] your greatest successes,” he said. “That’s just the way I’ve been bred. You hate for games to come down to situations like that, but I love it.”