|Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship||05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET|
Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …
This was Paul Pierce‘s signature season. Reaching the 20,000-point plateau, he had left the 2005 version of himself behind — turning in the most efficient season of his 13-year career during the hunt for a second NBA championship banner that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.
“I’m trying to get another one,” Pierce told Celtics legend Bill Russell in a recent conversation on NBA.com. “I’m going to go out and get it, just like you did.”
And then the first two games of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals happened.
Now, Pierce finds himself in a place he’s only been twice in his great Boston tenure — down 2-0 in a playoff series — and both times he’s been swept. But that was before he partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before he matured into an unselfish player who put team first and before he earned an NBA Finals MVP.
That partnership, maturity and unselfishness was nowhere to be found in Game 1, when he lost his head not once but twice in the heat of playoff battle — an all too familiar reminder of the guy who got tossed from Game 6 of a 2005 playoff series against the Pacers, waved his jersey over his head to incite the Indiana crowd and wore a mock bandage around his jaw during the post-game press conference.
In Game 2, Pierce took just 11 shots and two free throws for 13 points; he recorded only one assist. Where is the guy that shot nearly 50 percent for the regular season and dished out more than three assists per game? Sure, you could blame that in part on his strained left Achilles tendon, but he still played 33 minutes and said, “It didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”
Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, LeBron James, turned in a signature performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting. There was a time, not too long ago, when Pierce was capable of giving James a run for his money. Remember Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when The Truth lived up to his nickname and negated LeBron’s 45-point outing with 41 points of his own?
Is Pierce still capable of submitting such a performance? Sure. He scored 38 points on 14-of-19 shooting against the Knicks less than two weeks ago. There’s fight in Paul Pierce. He’s the same guy who got stabbed 11 times and didn’t miss a single game — an improbable comeback that produced the greatest sign I’ve ever seen from a fan inside the TD Garden: “You can stab him, but you can’t stop him.”
Battered, beaten and tired. The Celtics aren’t going to go out like that, because Paul Pierce isn’t going to go out like that. There’s a reason he’s the captain. He just needs to show it, especially in the wake of the news that the Thunder responded in Game 2 after a players-only meeting demanded by — yup — Kendrick Perkins.
After all, Pierce still needs to dot that “i” on his signature season.
CELTICS’ BIG FOUR MUST CONNECT
Did you ever think you’d see a playoff game in which Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett would all be vastly outplayed? Those three combined for 36 points on 15-of-38 shooting, 16 rebounds and (gulp!) three assists in the 102-91 Game 2 loss in Miami. Meanwhile, the Heat’s James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh produced 80 points on 27-of-55 shooting, 25 rebounds and 10 assists.
Rajon Rondo (20-6-12) was the only member of the Big Four to turn in an admirable performance, and even he could be better. He’s being guarded by the artist formerly known as Mike Bibby. Perhaps Rondo could use the fact that Derrick Rose received 120 more MVP votes as motivation. Read into what you will of Rondo walking away from Pierce and Doc Rivers at separate points in Tuesday night’s game, but the Big Four needs to find that execution that made them the defending Eastern Conference champions.
You certainly can’t blame the bench, as Jeff Green and Delonte West turned in their best performances of the playoffs to help the C’s reserve outscore their Heat counterparts 27-12. Even if Glen Davis played hero ball in the waning minutes, it’s his veteran teammates’ responsibility to demand the ball.
There’s plenty of blame to go around. Some will say Celtics general manager Danny Ainge. Others have said Big Baby. Or the referees, age, injuries, whatever. Regardless, the Celtics are down 0-2 and face a must-win game in Boston on Saturday night, earlier in a series than ever before for this current group. Are they afraid?
- As Garnett told Paul Flannery in another must-read post-game column, “It is what it is and we have to deal with it. We need to go protect our homecourt. Period. There isn’t much to talk about. It’s do or die.”
- As Rivers told Adrian Wojnarowski in an eye-opening piece, “We’ve never been down 2-0 together, so this has turned into our biggest test. But if we’re going to face this together, I’m glad we’ll face it in Boston.”
- And as Allen told the Florida Sun-Sentinel, “Being down 2-0 doesn’t scare us, doesn’t make us nervous. It just means we’re down 2-0.”
On Saturday night, we’ll find out if that’s just talk or if these Celtics are who we thought they were.
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