|MIP: Most Indispensable Player||12.15.08 at 9:38 pm ET|
Paul Pierce had been knocked down, kneed, elbowed and the recipient of more than one collision already when his knee banged into Mehmet Okur. It was his left knee, not the one he injured against the Lakers in the Finals, and it was straight, as in prone for a devastating knee injury.
Pierce was able to bend his knee a bit before Okur went crashing into him, and he avoided disaster. But it still hurt like hell, and when he went down the Garden was deathly quiet. His teammates left the bench en masse to check on Pierce and Big Baby Davis and Leon Powe had to help him get back to the locker room.
The crowd chanted M-V-P as Pierce made his way off the court, but they should have been chanting M-I-P as in, Most Indispensable Player.
“It’s a little tender,” Pierce said after his club dispatched the Jazz, 100-91. “The knee kind of buckled. It should be all right.”
That’s good news, obviously, for the Celtics, because if there’s one player on the roster they can’t afford to lose, it’s Pierce.
That’s a funny statement to make when you look at what Rajon Rondo has done this year–and he turned in another gem against Deron Williams–and when you consider that Kevin Garnett is well, Kevin Garnett. But behind Pierce on the small forward depth chart is Tony Allen, who is not, in fact, a small forward, and Brian Scalabrine, who is a perfect 10th Man, but not exactly the guy you want knocking heads with Ron Artest or LeBron James for 38 minutes a night.
It’s also funny when you look at Pierce’s shooting numbers. Simply put, Pierce has not shot the ball well this season. His field goal percentage has hovered around 40 percent, the lowest of his career, and his 3-point shooting is a tick off (35 percent) his career average of 36 percent.
But Pierce is indispensable because he has become a player who can be great even when he’s not scoring at a high level. Take the simple act of making free throws, for instance, where he is shooting 84 percent. Pierce is getting to the line at a higher rate than he did last year, which is helping him keep his scoring average at around 18 a game.
That’s important because while his shot hasn’t been falling at his normal rate, he is shooting less and turning it over less than his career averages, proof that he is not forcing the issue in an effort to get himself going. Even more than last year, Pierce has been content to take his offense as it comes and let others, particularly Ray Allen, have the scoring glory.
Even when he is on the floor with the four mainstays off the bench, Pierce hasn’t imposed his strong personality on the proceedings. Before his knee scare, Pierce had logged 43 minutes and taken just 13 shots, none of them 3-pointers. Think about that for a second and let it roll around in your head. He remains the Celtics’ best one-on-one option. The guy you want to have the ball in his hands when the game is on the line–as he proved against Toronto and Atlanta back in early November. Yet he is perfectly comfortable to not be The Man.
As great as Garnett is, Pierce’s willingness to defer to others, and take the reins when necessary, are the principal reasons the Celtics have worked offensively.
Then there’s the defense.
Oct. 28 LeBron James: 9-for-21, 22 points
Nov. 4 Ron Arrest: 3-for-16, 15 points
Nov. 14 Carmelo Anthony: 8-for-19, 18 points
Dec. 12: Peja Stojakovic: 1-for-6, 2 points
Nov. 1, Dec. 3, Dec. 7 Danny Granger: 21-for-55
There are all kinds of ways to measure toughness, particularly on the defensive end. Garnett is intimidating. Kendrick Perkins is, to coin a phrase, a beast. But Pierce gives the Celtics an edge, a street-tough nastiness that doesn’t back down.
This was Utah coach Jerry Sloan, one of the toughest SOB’s the NBA has ever seen, after last night’s game:
“It looked like we were scared to play against them to start the ballgame. Looked like we wanted to play out on the perimeter and take jump shots. They’re awfully hard to get the ball inside on, because they’re an excellent defensive team and they knock you around a bit. Our guys wanted to stay outside because I think they were afraid they’d get hurt. They had us intimidated a great deal and had us out on the perimeter.”
When Jerry Sloan says that his team was intimidated you have to take note.
People might not like the comparison, but the Celtics are an awful lot like the Detroit Pistons of the late 80’s, swaggering, intimidating and defense-first. They beat you up and then they tell you about it. All that went away for the Pistons when they traded Rick Mahorn, who was legitimately scary as hell. The Celtics have more than their share of tough guys, but Pierce is the one no one outside of Quentin Richardson wants to mess with.
He has been the Captain for a long time now, but this is truly his team now. The Celtics are in his image: tough, intimidating and just a little bit dangerous.
|Hold the Fries for Pierce||12.14.08 at 9:33 pm ET|
‘I got a rotisserie, so you can pretty much throw anything in that and just sit it and forget it,’ Paul Pierce said with a laugh.
If only his weight loss program was that simple. This summer Pierce estimates he dropped between eight to ten pounds, a step he took to enhance the quality of his career. Pierce, 31, had seen plenty of players gain weight around the same age and he couldn’t afford to do the same. Not when there is a championship to defend.
‘You always want to improve. I’m at the stage and the age where I’m not getting any younger and it’s going to be more difficult to keep off weight,’ he said. ‘But it’s just making a conscious effort, especially as my career winds down for the last four or five years, to just be in the best shape possible.’
Pierce became his own personal chef and said goodbye to many of the foods he had grown accustomed to.
‘I just cut back on a lot of meats, like red meats. I don’t eat a lot of steak as much as I did before, hamburgers, stuff like that,’ he explained. ‘It’s more chicken and fish, salads, pasta. Not as much pasta either, but you gotta sneak it in there sometimes. There are some great Italian places out here in Boston.’
The NBA season keeps Pierce out of his kitchen so he has to be extra cautious on the road. The combination of eating in the locker room after games, late-night meals, and dining out are red flags he has to avoid, or pay the price the following day.
‘It’s hard, especially when you go to Dallas and Mark Cuban puts all that food in [our locker room],’ he said. ‘I’m not saying I don’t cheat though. I just know I’ve got to get some extra work in the next morning.’
While Pierce decided to lose the weight on his own, he was impressed by how much shedding pounds transformed his teammate’s career. Kendrick Perkins lost 16 pounds heading into last season.
‘Just seeing him where he was day one,’ Pierce said. ‘I watched him from a kid to now and if you look at his pictures from his rookie year, you’d be like, ‘Man, who was that?”
So now that Pierce has traded in fried food for fresh fruit, what guilty pleasure does he miss the most?
‘Man, Mexican food,’ he said. ‘Growing up in Los Angeles you’ve got all the good Mexican places. I’m a taco guy, burritos, stuff like that. I cut back on those but I kind of sneak those in here and there. My mom makes the best chicken enchiladas. (Pauses) Man!”
|Sounds of the Game… Celtics 94, Hornets 82||12.13.08 at 8:53 am ET|
Yet another sign on Friday night that these Celtics may be even better and more focused than last year’s 66-win, NBA-champion group. The C’s came in after an 8 p.m. game the night before in Washington and had to battle the talented New Orleans Hornets, with James Posey making his return and collecting his ring. After circling at midcourt and doing Ubuntu one more time with the man Doc Rivers said understood it as well as anyone, the Celtics went out and won their 14th straight, matching their longest since March-April 1986. Rajon Rondo didn’t have his finest game but Paul Pierce more than picked up the slack with 28 points. Even Pose had to concede that this team may be even better than last year’s group.
|All about the focus…||12.10.08 at 12:41 pm ET|
The last time they visited the nation’s capital, all the Celtics could focus on was being on the same stage with President Bush.
Wednesday afternoon, as they boarded a plane for D.C. again, their focus was quite different.
The Celtics are 20-2 and once again on top of the NBA world. But listen to them at practice and they realize that they are the only people who can keep them there.
“It’s not hard at all, especially when you’re ultimate goal is to win a championship, the focus is there everyday,” Paul Pierce said. “Just because we’re veterans, we don’t have any letdowns. We check everybody, we check on one another and when we see one guy have slippage, we pick them up. That’s what this team is all about.”
As well as the Celtics know themselves, the Wizards are wondering who they are. They completed a stunning comeback on Tuesday night, coming from 15 points down to beat the Detroit Pistons going away. But still, at 4-15, the Wizards are a mess. Coaching journeyman Ed Tapscott took over for Eddie Jordan following the team’s 1-10 start without the injured Gilbert Arenas available.
In an effort to get more scoring depth, the Wizards pulled off a three-way trade on Wednesday, a deal that should have former Celtic Mike James available for Thursday’s contest.
If the Celtics can handle Caron Butler, they stand a very good chance of improving to 21-2 with the James Posey-Chris Paul-led Hornets up next on Friday at the Garden.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 93, Trail Blazers 78||12.06.08 at 11:44 am ET|
Last season, in their run to their 17th NBA title, the Celtics went from potential to prolific, winning 66 games in the regular season. This season, they are going from hype to historic, as in no team in NBA history has ever followed up an 18-2 start one season with a 19-2 opening the next… until now. What’s scary about the Green Machine’s is they honestly believe they have yet to play a complete game. Friday night, the best offensive rebounding team in the NBA came to town with a 16-4 mark and a six-game winning streak. They hadn’t lost to an Eastern Conference team. They had lost just twice in 16 games when holding their opponent under 100 points. Still not enough to overcome the Celtics, who overwhelmed them with a 21-0 run. The Celtics are all on the same page, preaching the same message, we’re playing well but there’s a lot of season remaining and a lot to play for. Just take a listen.
|Sounds of the game… Celtics 114, Pacers 86||12.04.08 at 12:30 am ET|
So, only 55 more wins until the Celtics set the all-time NBA record for wins in a season. That means the Celtics need to go 55-7 the rest of the way. Based on what we’ve seen so far this season, there’s no reason to think they can’t do it. The latest example came on Wednesday. As the Indiana Pacers showed of making a courageous run to stay in the game in the third quarter, Rajon Rondo reminded everyone that he just might be the MVP of the team, lighting it up for 16 points while handing out a career-best 17 assists. Just think, that’s MVP Rondo on the same team with Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and vintage Ray Allen, who is tearing it up for the Green so far this season. Now you see why there are those who feel this team may be on the verge of something historic.
|Pierce’s D Helps Celtics Earn the W||12.03.08 at 9:24 pm ET|
The stat line will tell the story of Rajon Rondo‘s triple-double, Ray Allen‘s 31 points, and Kevin Garnett‘s 14 rebounds. But what it won’t show is the stifling defense Paul Pierce imposed on Danny Granger. Pierce held Granger to just six second half point (20 total) and shut down the Pacers leading scorer.
‘Paul’s always been a good defensive player,’ Granger said after the Pacers 114-96 loss. ‘KG’s a candidate for Defensive Player of the Year and I think that’s one of the things that makes this team good. They can score the ball but they also play good defense.’
Granger scored 14 points in the first half with the majority coming while Ray Allen was guarding him. The defensive switch worked for the Celtics and Granger finished the night shooting 7-for-15, including just one basket in the paint. Pierce’s tough defense combined with the Pacers’ exhaustion from Tuesday’s overtime win against the Lakers was too much for Granger to overcome.
‘I just got a little tired,’ he said. ‘It’s hard playing back to back games sometimes, especially when you fight so hard to win one game. You have lapses and your legs give out but that’s still no excuse. Everyone plays back to back games. You’ve just got find a way to find through. Tonight we couldn’t.’
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