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Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season

UPDATE: Just after this story was posted, Paul Pierce [1] was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week.

Now that the Celtics [2] have returned to the public conscious, the first thing everyone wants to know is when did they begin to turn it around? That one’s easy. It was the second half of the Oklahoma City game right before the All-Star break when Doc Rivers [3] made a few decisions and the players made a vow to play better in the second half.

The Celtics have gone 15-5 since the All-Star break and have vaulted into first place in the Atlantic Division and re-emerged as the proverbial team no one wants to face in the playoffs.

There are many reasons for their turnaround, but two have been given the most attention. First, Rivers moved Kevin Garnett [4] to center and inserted Brandon Bass [5] into the starting lineup. Second, he decided to shorten the rotation, which essentially meant not playing rookies.

The first move worked flawlessly, the second move has required some adjusting on the fly. It’s important to remember that Greg Stiemsma [6] wasn’t a part of the first nine-man system that Rivers employed. The role of first big off the bench belonged to Chris Wilcox [7] and Stiemsma’s role only became more prominent after a physical turned up cardiac issues for Wilcox that required surgery. Additionally, Keyon Dooling [8] has risen from the ashes to become an incredibly solid third guard at a time when they are without Ray Allen [9] and Mickael Pietrus [10].

There’s also been the play of Rajon Rondo [11], who has performed much better this March than last season. Like last year, Rondo has been shooting less in the second half of the season, but that doesn’t mean he hasn’t been as active. He has recorded double-digit assists in each of their last 13 games and cut his turnovers down dramatically. He also showed on Sunday that when the situation calls for it, he can elevate his game. That wasn’t always the case last season.

For all that, one of the biggest reasons for the Celtics’ turnaround remains largely ignored. Paul Pierce is playing his best basketball of the season.

In March, Pierce averaged 22.3 points, 5.6 rebounds and 3.6 assists. He took almost two and a half shots more per game that month than he had previously, and he scored at a more efficient rate. Pierce went to the basket more and converted at an almost 70 percent clip, which would put him in company with LeBron James [12], Kevin Durant [13] and Andre Iguodala [14] among the best small forward finishers in the game.

Pierce has been even better over the last seven games in what has arguably been their best stretch of the season. Beginning with a road win over Milwaukee and including victories over Utah, Miami and the Timberwolves [15] on the road, the Celtics have gone 6-1 with their only loss coming against Philadelphia on the same night they lost Pietrus with what appears to be a serious concussion.

In those seven games, Pierce has scored 166 points and grabbed 58 rebounds. He’s shooting 47 percent from the floor, better than 40 percent from 3-point range and he’s been the one Celtic to get to the free throw line consistently.

What truly stands out about Pierce’s run is that nothing stands out besides the notable increase in rebounding. He scored 36 points against the Bobcats — aided by 18 trips to the free throw line in an ugly game — but other than that Pierce has been steadily notching 20-23 points and 7-9 rebounds a night.

Pierce has had wild fluctuations this season. From the hobbled shell that took the court for the first 11 games of the season to the All-Star performer who helped save the season while Rondo and Ray Allen were out with injuries, Pierce hasn’t achieved the level of consistency that we’ve come to expect from him. Until now.

It’s easy to take Pierce for granted sometimes, but don’t overlook his contributions to his team’s renaissance.