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Mickael Pietrus: Celtics ‘have 17 banners for a reason’

05.13.12 at 1:30 pm ET
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Big deal. For another NBA championship ring, Kevin Garnett said, “I’d die if I had to, and that’s real talk.”

So would Mickael Pietrus. Well, maybe he wouldn’t give his life, but he’s at least giving his ailing right knee for a chance at that first NBA title that has eluded him over his previous eight seasons.

“Well, his knee is swelling up again, obviously,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said after his team’s 92-91 win over the 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“My knee bothered me a little bit,” Pietrus said, “but my team needed me on the floor to defend their best player. My job is to get myself ready, do more treatment and try to get ready to fight. I’m a soldier. That’s my nickname.”

Following offseason knee surgery that eventually led to his release by the Suns, Pietrus came to Boston, where he averaged 6.9 points over 21.9 minutes mostly off the bench in 42 regular-season games. Since January, he’s played through the ebbs and flows of the swelling in the knee, missing only two of his first 39 games in green.

A terrifying concussion cost Pietrus the last week in March and first weekend of April, but he returned for the C’s brutal back-to-back-to-back, only to have the swelling cost him four of the final five games of the regular season. This playoff run pushed the number of minutes on his knee over 1,000, and that’s taking its toll.

Mickael Pietrus (left) is struggling offensively, but he continues to contribute defensively. (AP)

Through seven playoff games, Pietrus has 10 points. He reached double digits in 11 games this season. Still, “Nothing bothers me right now,” Pietrus said. “I’m winning.”

Although, for the C’s to continue their playoff success, they’ll need Pietrus to shoot better than 4-for-17 from the field (23.5 FG%) and 2-for-15 from 3-point range (13.3 3P%). The career 36 percent 3-point shooter hasn’t converted from distance since Game 3 of the first round, including an 0-for-2 showing in Game 1 this series.

“I think right now he’s searching for that one,” Rivers said. “You almost feel like he’s Albert Pujols trying to hit his first home run, you know? You just start putting more stress on yourself than you probably have to. So, he’ll make them, because we want him to keep taking them.”

Meanwhile, Pietrus continues to contribute on the defensive end. After battling Joe Johnson for stretches last round, he gave Paul Pierce a break guarding Sixers stalwarts Andre Iguodola and Thaddeus Young. In the playoffs, despite his poor shooting, Pietrus owns a plus/minus of plus-18 in his time on the floor.

“The other end hasn’t changed,” said Rivers. “He’s still defending. And that’s good; that’s a mature player that he doesn’t get so down on offense that he stops doing his job. His job for us is defense.”

“Series after series can be different,” Pietrus said, “so I always try to get myself ready, even to make one shot or play the best guy defensively. You just get yourself ready to play. It’s playoff time. …

“You know, I’m a vet now,” he added. “I’ve been in the NBA 10 years. I’m not young no more. Call me a vet. I’ve been in the playoffs before. I know what it takes. The Boston Celtics never lead the league in scoring. They have 17 banners for a reason. You play hard defense and do whatever you can to win basketball games.”

In 2009, as a member of the Magic, Pietrus averaged 10.5 points in 24 playoff games during Orlando’s run to the NBA finals, including 12.1 points per contest in their seven-game Eastern Conference semifinals victory against the Celtics. He scored 17 points apiece in Games 1, 2 and 7 of that series. Then again, he took 7.3 shots per game for the Magic in the 2009 playoffs as opposed to 2.4 for the Celtics this postseason.

“Everything hasn’t been going my way because I don’t have a lot of touches, but I don’t worry about that,” he said. “I worry about the team first. But the thing is, you have to respect Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, KG and [Rajon] Rondo. They need to ball a lot, so I’m just trying to do the extra things to make the team a better team defensively. …

“I think it’s all about situations, he added. “Maybe next year I’ll be in a better situation with the team, but right now I have to be patient. I respect Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and stuff like that. We’ve got to get this win.”

In the meantime, Pietrus is trying to make good on his midseason guarantee of an 18th Celtics banner.

“I think the Celtics are going to play hard from the beginning to the end,” Pietrus said. “We’re trying to chase something bigger than every player in this locker room — the championship. With the guys that we have in the locker room — KG, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen and Rondo — it’s time to get it now. I’m trying to get my first one.”

Read More: 2012 Playoffs, Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, Mickael Pietrus
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