Paul Pierce: ‘I was expecting to be me’
|12.31.11 at 2:00 am ET|
The box score may have read just 12 points in 23 minutes for Paul Pierce in the first game of his 14th NBA season Friday night, helping the Celtics beat the Pistons, 96-85, at TD Garden for their first win of the season.
But more than that, the Celtics captain felt good about his ailing right heel. After bruising the heel just before the opening of camp on Dec. 9, he took part in just one practice with the team before being reduced to watching practice from the sidelines.
He had to watch in a suit on the sidelines as the Celtics dropped their first three games for the first time since the 2006-07 season.
“It felt good to finally get back out there with my teammates,” Pierce said. “Didn’t have much practice time, just have to get in shape in these games and just feels good to be out there.”
What were his expectations after just one practice and no games to get him in basketball shape?
“I was expecting to be me,” Pierce said. “I don’t settle for anything less. I work tremendously hard. I did a lot of things and did what I could do, other than practice. I just stayed focused, got my shots every day, I was on the [exercise] bike, and Doc [Doc Rivers] wanted me to be aggressive and just play the way I play, and that’s what I tried to do.
“It felt good. I think the rest of my body is a little bit more sore than anything, since I haven’t had any physical contact or up-and-down basketball in quite a while.”
After six points in 15 minutes in the first half, Kevin Garnett found Pierce open for a pair of threes early in the third quarter, as the Celtics put the game away with a 36-21 spurt.
“We moved the ball, with Kevin making the two passes, wide open for the threes and I just wanted to try to be aggressive,” Pierce said. “Everything is going to come if I just continue to play hard. The timing, the chemistry, it will all come. I’m not going to hold anything back. So, I’m just going to go out there and continue to play the way I play.”
As impressive as his six points in four minutes of the third quarter were, his presence bolstered a smothering Celtics defense, something that had been missing in three losses.
“When I’m out there, we’re more familiar with one another, than having Sasha [Sasha Pavlovic] or Marquis [Marquis Daniels], those guys not playing with the starters as much as I have,” Pierce said in a straightforward tone. “There’s a little more defensive chemistry there, when I’m out there with these guys. We talk a little bit more, with know each other’s tendencies and that’s what it is, truthfully. We’re more comfortable on both ends of the court.”
“The scoring overshadows the small things that he does,” Garnett said of Pierce. “He’s a very, very good teammate and a personal friend for a long time. He has a very, very high basketball IQ, and he’s very talkative on the court. He knows how to play. And he’s willing to give the ball up on his own. When you make sacrifices like that you impact everybody. It just gets overshadowed sometime by the scoring.”
Pierce’s first basket came on a patented drive into the paint and a left-handed layup at the basket with 8:54 left in the opening quarter. He then fed Jermaine O’Neal for a layup two minutes later. Pierce was beginning to find a groove.
“Doc was about to sub me pretty early and I said, ‘I’m having too much fun right now,’ especially when I got the first basket,” said Pierce, who was subbed for by Daniels with 5:32 left in the first quarter. “It’s going to take me a little time just to get back in pretty good game shape, the shape I want to be in to be at the level I want to play in. It’ll come.”
Why the need to come back Friday?
“At this point, we were 0-3 and it was kind of like a business approach,” Pierce said. “We wanted to come out here and get a win, first and foremost and to just get back on track. I had fun on the bench when we were up and I didn’t have to go back in. Other than that, I wanted to take this really business-like and come out here and help my team win.”
And Pierce’s return probably came as an unpleasant surprise to Pistons coach Lawrence Frank, who was told by Rivers in a dinner Thursday night that Pierce probably wouldn’t play.
“Just having Paul on the floor – the space is so different,” Rivers said. “I felt bad because I took Lawrence out to dinner [Thursday] night. He said, ‘Is Paul playing?’ I said, ‘No, there’s no chance.’ But, it does. Just the spacing and the ball movement; it was amazing how the ball moved today again. That was nice. I just thought the New Orleans game – whatever the reason, the ball stuck in everybody’s hands. Everybody was trying to win the game by themselves. And that will never be who we are.”