Despite Paul Pierce ‘s assurance that “the knee was fine” after struggling in the Eastern Conference semifinals Game 2 loss, 76ers forward Elton Brand said the sprained MCL is noticeably taking its toll on the Celtics  captain.
“When you’re hurting, it takes away some of your aggressiveness,” said Brand, whose 2007 knee injury was the first in a long line of Achilles, shoulder, hand and neck problems throughout his career. “You don’t think about it, but subconsciously it takes away your movement and your thrust.
“[It was noticeable] at times. We know what type of player he is and what kind of playoff performer he’s been.”
Pierce scored just seven points on 2-of-7 shooting in Monday’s 82-81 loss to the Sixers. He amassed five rebounds, four steals and three assists but also registered five turnovers and four fouls over 37 minutes.
“We’ve got to figure out a better way to get the ball to him in different spots, away from traps,” said Celtics coach Doc Rivers  on WEEI’s Dennis & Callahan morning show . “I think Paul has to do a better job of handling those. I thought in the first game he was terrific down the stretch. He didn’t get any of the credit, but our three baskets down the stretch in Game 1 was off a Paul Pierce play. They were trapping him everywhere, and he moved the ball.”
Pierce scored 20 or more points in three of the first four games of the Hawks series, but he hasn’t eclipsed that mark since re-aggravating the MCL sprain in Game 4 hours after the injury first occurred during a team shootaround.
“He’s not hurting himself by playing,” said Rivers, “but he’s probably not healing either.
In other words, while the knee isn’t getting any worse, it’s also not getting any better. Against Andre Iguodola and the 76ers, Pierce is averaging only 10.5 points on 25.0 percent shooting (5-of-20 FG) in Round 2. He’s played at least 36 minutes in all four playoff games since crumbling to the Garden parquet in the second quarter of Round 1, including 77 minutes over the first two games of the Eastern Conference semis.
Still, Celtics trainer Eddie Lacerte told Rivers that Pierce just needs to play. “After Game 4, there’s a break, and hopefully that’ll help, but right now we have a lot of guys that are banged up, and we’ve just got to get through it,” added the Celtics coach. “We didn’t play well last night. That had nothing to do with injury.”
Perhaps it had more to do with Iguodola, who has been on the court for all but one of those 77 minutes. Pierce is averaging 8.5 points per 36 minutes when Iguodola is on the floor, and 108 per 36 when he’s not (1 MIN, 1-of-2 FG, 1-of-1 3P). A ridiculously limited sample size, for sure, but you get the point.
“I’m not worried,” Pierce countered after scoring 14 points on 3-of-11 shooting in Game 1. “I think as the series goes along I’m a smart enough player that I’ll figure out what they’re trying to do.’
The knee isn’t getting better, so the only choice left for Pierce is to get better at dealing with it.