MIAMI Paul Pierce could not make a shot that mattered for three-plus quarters. Rajon Rondo was not the best player, or second best player, or third-best, or fourth . . . for most of the game.
The saving grace for the Boston Celtics on Tuesday night was the man who had saved them at various stretches this season: Kevin Garnett.
He shook off a slow start to eventually shake to its knees a Miami Heat team that's once again on the verge of seeing its season flame out earlier than expected.
Garnett's team-high 26 points, which included a pair of free throws with 8.8 seconds to play, paved the way for the Celtics' 94-90 Game 5 win.
The C's now return to Boston for a potentially series-clinching Game 6 battle that would return them to the NBA Finals for the third time during the Big Three era.
And as has been the case throughout this series, Miami once again had no answer for Garnett, who finished 11-for-20 from the field after missing six of his first seven shots.
"I let a lot of the offense come to me," said Garnett, who also had 11 rebounds and 2 blocked shots. "I look at myself as a defensive player first. I thought some of the defensive plays I was able to make fueled me into getting some easy baskets."
The one play that sticks out came in the fourth quarter with the Heat ahead, 80-79.
LeBron James came flying through the lane for what appeared to be a lay-up only for Garnett to block the shot and set up a C's offensive possession that ultimately ended with a 15-footer by Garnett with 2:54 to play.
Boston spent all but 23 seconds in the lead for the rest of the night.
And while Paul Pierce delivered a dagger 3-pointer in James' face, and Ray Allen came through with a pair of free throws, it was Garnett who once again saved the day -- and potentially the season -- for the Celtics.
"He's just amazing," C's coach Doc Rivers said of Garnett. "Obviously we need his scoring. That's important, but he just he's our life. I mean, he really is. He just does so many things that don't have numbers to it. A lot of it is his voice. He's in a strange way a calming effect on some of our guys, if you can ever call Kevin that, he is. He's just been terrific for us."
A big part of Garnett's success has been his ability to appreciate the moment for what it is -- one moment.
From the very beginning, Garnett has had visions of the Celtics going further than where they are now.
He has repeatedly talked about the process of being the last team standing, about how the season is filled with ups and downs, hurdles and obstacles, all in some way strengthening the resolve of a team that was pleased but far from satisfied, with Tuesday's win.
"We have been taking this thing one game at a time," Garnett said. "The next game will be no different from that. We'll prepare. We'll make all of the adjustments. We're not looking ahead to anything."