MIAMI Shaquille O'Neal is no longer a member of the Boston Celtics, but he may have delivered an assist that could catapult the C's back into the NBA Finals for the first time since 2010.
Boston's 94-90 Game 5 win over Miami was fueled in part by Mickael Pietrus' 13 points off the C's bench - that more than doubled his points total (six) in the first four games of this series.
Pietrus said a text message from O'Neal (now an NBA analyst for TNT) was one of the keys to his breakout performance.
"You know (Monday) I got a text from Shaq telling me keep believing and keep playing," Pietrus said. "So that's what I did."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers has maintained for weeks that any scoring from Pietrus would be "gravy" just as long as he continued to provide solid play defensively against the Heat and their perimeter players such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.
But at some point, you had to figure on Pietrus getting into some kind of rhythm offensively.
Tuesday was that night, as Pietrus connected on 5-of-8 shots which included a pair of 3s in the fourth quarter, each coming at a time when the C's were in dire need of a basket.
His first 3-pointer cut Miami's lead in half, to 78-75.
That play came moments after a spectacular block by Dwyane Wade of a Brandon Bass dunk attempt.
Rajon Rondo, who had 13 assists, wisely tapped the loose ball out to a wide open Pietrus for the 3-pointer.
"When Rondo took that rebound and kicked it out to me, I knew I had to take the shot and make it," Pietrus said. "So that's what I did."
And his second 3-pointer came about after a mad scramble. It put the Celtics ahead 85-83, with 2:11 to play.
Boston would not trail again for the rest of the night.
It was indeed a night of redemption for Pietrus, who came into the game having missed eight of his nine shots from the field in this series.
Despite his struggles shooting the ball, Rivers never hesitated to put him on the floor.
In fact, the deeper the C's got in the playoffs, the more confident Rivers became that Pietrus would find his shooting stroke and revert back to the big-shot maker that, when with Orlando in 2009, was pivotal in ending the Celtics' season.
"He's been down this road before," Rivers said. "He played with Orlando, made big shots, had big defensive stops, was very comfortable."
Pietrus hopes to continue delivering in a similar fashion in Thursday night's series-clinching game.
If he does, there will be plenty of folks Pietrus will surely thank - Shaquille O'Neal among them.