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Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce must captain Celtics ship 05.04.11 at 12:31 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

This was Paul Pierce‘s signature season. Reaching the 20,000-point plateau, he had left the 2005 version of himself behind — turning in the most efficient season of his 13-year career during the hunt for a second NBA championship banner that would further cement his legacy as one of the greatest Celtics of all-time.

“I’m trying to get another one,” Pierce told Celtics legend Bill Russell in a recent conversation on NBA.com. “I’m going to go out and get it, just like you did.”

And then the first two games of the 2011 Eastern Conference semifinals happened.

Now, Pierce finds himself in a place he’s only been twice in his great Boston tenure — down 2-0 in a playoff series — and both times he’s been swept. But that was before he partnered with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, before he matured into an unselfish player who put team first and before he earned an NBA Finals MVP.

That partnership, maturity and unselfishness was nowhere to be found in Game 1, when he lost his head not once but twice in the heat of playoff battle — an all too familiar reminder of the guy who got tossed from Game 6 of a 2005 playoff series against the Pacers, waved his jersey over his head to incite the Indiana crowd and wore a mock bandage around his jaw during the post-game press conference.

In Game 2, Pierce took just 11 shots and two free throws for 13 points; he recorded only one assist. Where is the guy that shot nearly 50 percent for the regular season and dished out more than three assists per game? Sure, you could blame that in part on his strained left Achilles tendon, but he still played 33 minutes and said, “It didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”

Meanwhile, his defensive assignment, LeBron James, turned in a signature performance with 35 points on 14-of-25 shooting. There was a time, not too long ago, when Pierce was capable of giving James a run for his money. Remember Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals, when The Truth lived up to his nickname and negated LeBron’s 45-point outing with 41 points of his own?

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Paul Pierce strains left Achilles 05.03.11 at 11:51 pm ET
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MIAMI — Paul Pierce strained his left Achilles tendon in the first quarter of Game 2 and had to go back to the locker room for a stretch. He returned soon after and scored 13 points in the Celtics’ 102-91 loss. “It’s day to day right now,” Pierce said. “We’ll see how it feels the next couple of days.”

Pierce said he wasn’t sure how the injury happened, but it was a problem for him. “When you strain your Achilles, every step is like a slight little pain,” he said. “It actually loosened up as I got back in there and it didn’t really affect me the rest of the game.”

Pierce wasn’t the only Celtic playing in pain. Rajon Rondo’s back tightened up and Ray Allen was dealing with a bruised chest. “[Trainer] Eddie [Lacerte] and Dr. [Brian] McKeon did a hell of a job today,” Doc Rivers said. “We had a circus going on at one point. Ray needed to be taken to the locker room. Paul was coming out of the locker room. Rondo was asking to come out almost simultaneously. It was sketchy.”

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Fast Break: Celtics collapse in another loss to Heat at 9:45 pm ET
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The Heat broke open a tie game in the fourth quarter with a 14-point run and LeBron James‘ 35 points helped Miami defeat the Celtics, 102-91, to take a two-game lead in the second-round series. Rajon Rondo led the Celtics with 20 points, 12 assists and six rebounds.

Game 3 is back in Boston on Saturday.

WHAT WENT WRONG

Fourth-quarter collapse: After surging back to tie the game at 80 apiece, the Heat scored the next 14 points, including six free throws, to take a 94-80 lead with three and a half minutes remaining. James dominated that stretch, totaling 12 fourth-quarter points. The Celtics unraveled, failing to get back on defense as a result of complaints about the officiating. Even Doc Rivers picked up a late technical foul arguing a call (the Heat did own a 36-22 advantage in free throws).

Heat’s Big Three vs. Celtics’ Big Four: The Heat entered the game with a 33-3 record when their Big Three combined for 70 points, and James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh combined to top that milestone by 10. Wade, James and Bosh combined for 80 points and 26 rebounds, while Rondo, Allen, Pierce and Garnett totaled 56 points and 22 rebounds. Allen (7 points) and Pierce (11 points) especially struggled.

Paul Pierce isn’t Paul Pierce: Pierce left the game in the first half after twisting an ankle. After getting treatment in the locker room, he returned relatively quickly. Still, he didn’t appear as explosive and struggled for a second straight game. Meanwhile, Allen — who was already struggling — bruised his chest during a third-quarter collision with James.

WHAT WENT RIGHT

Jeff Green inserts himself: In 10 first-half minutes, Jeff Green made 4-of-5 shots — including a pair of 3-pointers for 10 points before the break (he finished with 11 points). His performance highlighted what was perhaps the bench’s best stretch of the playoffs, as the Celtics stayed with the Heat to start a low-scoring second quarter. Green even demonstrated some rare emotion, letting out a roar after being fouled by James in the third quarter. Delonte West (10 points) also had five points on 2-of-2 shooting off the bench during that same span.

Guarding James Jones: After Jones scored 25 points on seven shots in Game 1, the Celtics made a concerted effort to keep Jones from killing them on open 3-point shots — and it paid off. Forcing Jones to play off the dribble rather than set up along the 3-point line, the C’s held him to one missed field goal in the first half. Meanwhile, Jones picked up three fouls on the defensive end before the break — rendering him useless.

JO-ffensive rebounding: The Celtics have struggled on the offensive glass all season, but Jermaine O’Neal single-handedly gave the C’s five extra possessions in the first half alone — as they battled the Heat evenly (7-7) in offensive rebounding for the first 24 minutes. O’Neal finished with a respectable eight points and nine rebounds, but the Celtics ended up losing the rebounding battle on both ends of the floor.

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Irish Coffee: Heat not guilty of foul play? at 1:43 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Plenty of deserved concerns arose about the officiating following the Heat’s Game 1 victory over the Celtics in which LeBron James & Co. made the same amount of field goals (32) and three fewer 3-pointers (12-9) but 12 more free throws on 14 more attempts.

Considering the NBA downgraded Celtics center Jermaine O’Neal‘s flagrant-one to a personal foul while upgrading Heat guard James Jones‘ personal to a flagrant-one foul the day after Game 1, any gripes about the referees — Dan Crawford, Ed Malloy and Derrick Collins — were validated as more than just sour grapes.

NBA officials have long been criticized for their treatment of the league’s superstars. It’s a conspiracy theory born in the Michael Jordan era and nursed along by the indictment of referee Tim Donaghy on game-fixing allegations (Donaghy appeared on Dennis & Callahan Tuesday morning). While I wouldn’t go so far to include the NBA’s current referees — Sunday’s officiating crew included — in the same conversation as Donaghy, there is statistical evidence that James and Dwyane Wade have received at least inadvertent star treatment throughout the 2010-11 season and into the playoffs.

The Heat averaged 27.9 free-throw attempts per game during the regular season, while their opponents averaged 24.2. Conversely, the Celtics averaged 23.1 free-throw attempts, while their opponents averaged 24.1. More specifically, Wade and James combined for 17.0 free-throw attempts per game this season. By contrast, Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen combined for 13.3 free throws a game.

But Wade and James get to the rim a ton, you say? That’s true. Each game, the Heat duo combined for 13.1 field-goal attempts within three feet of the basket. Hence, the big free throw numbers. But shouldn’t the Celtics’ Big Four — who combine for 14.0 field goals at the rim every game — be somewhere in that 17 free-throws per game range, rather than 13.3?

Not convinced? Consider this fact: Jordan averaged 7.7 free throws per game during his six championship seasons; Wade (8.6) and James (8.4) each averaged more this season.

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Paul Pierce: ‘Definitely worried’ about possible suspension 05.02.11 at 2:07 pm ET
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UPDATE: Pierce will not be suspended or face further disciplinary action, according to league official.

CORAL GABLES, Fla. — Paul Pierce – who declined to speak to reporters following Sunday’s Game 1 loss to the Heat — met with the media before the Celtics’ practice Tuesday on the campus of the University of Miami. Pierce was ejected on Sunday after picking up his second technical foul, which was assessed after he exchanged words with Dwyane Wade following an attempt by Wade to run through a screen set by Pierce.

But it was the first technical called on Pierce that has raised the idea that action from the NBA might be administered. Pierce appeared to attempt a head-butt on James Jones after the Miami swingman aggressively fouled Pierce. Pierce told the media that he expected to hear from the NBA sometime on Monday, but didn’t feel his actions warranted further action. He did, however, admit that there is always worry whenever the league is investigating the possibility of discipline.

“It’s always a concern when things happen,” Pierce said. “Right now it’s out of my control, they are going to view it the how they view it and come to a decision. I’m definitely worried because if it’s a situation where it hurts my team, then it was very selfish. It was selfish of me last night but it’ll hurt even more if the league cam with the decision to suspend me, if that’s what they thought they saw.”

Pierce — who said he was “surprised at getting kicked out” — agreed with Doc Rivers, who in his postgame press conference Sunday suggested that both Jones and Wade should have received flagrant fouls.

“I probably overreacted,” Pierce said. “Thought I was fouled excessively on both play. I thought it should have been a flagrant on both plays. But it’s up to me to keep my composure. The referees called what they saw. I need to do a better job keeping my composure. That’s it.”

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Wyc Grousbeck on M&M: Kendrick Perkins ‘was going to walk’ 04.29.11 at 1:11 pm ET
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Celtics co-owner Wyc Grousbeck stopped by for a visit with the Mut & Merloni show Friday afternoon as the C’s prepare for their second-round series against the Heat. To hear the interview, go to the Mut & Merloni audio on demand page.

Grousbeck discussed the trade with the Thunder that sent Kendrick Perkins to Oklahoma City. “We’re not here to trash Perk,” Grousbeck said. “What we’re here to say is, We needed, obviously, a backup for Paul [Pierce] and Ray [Allen]. This series will show, somebody needs to come in with quality — Jeff Green — and step up. And that’s how, hopefully, we can give these guys a fight.”

Added Grousbeck: “We love Perk. We miss him, no question. But we didn’t need another center as much as we needed someone to back up Paul and Ray. That’s the theory of the trade. We’ll see how it works out.”

Regarding Perkins’ contract issues, Grousbeck said: “Perk was going to walk at the end of June. That was clear. We offered him everything we could, and it wasn’t enough.”

Grousbeck insisted the trade is as much about this season as the years ahead. Said Grousbeck: “It’s also a trade for the future. But our principal idea is, Improve for this year if we can, and what are the pros and cons. And you back Danny [Ainge]. Danny’s got us to the championship, and I’m right there with him. The rest of us are all right there with him.”

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Celtics and Heat offer interesting matchups 04.28.11 at 1:40 pm ET
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Don't expect to see Rajon Rondo guard LeBron James again during the playoffs. (AP)

All along the Celtics and Heat figured that they would meet in the playoffs.”It wouldn’t be right if we didn’t go through them,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra told reporters in Miami after his team eliminated Philadelphia on Wednesday.

The Celtics had a similar reaction. “We assumed when they put this team together, at some point if we want to put another banner up then we’ll probably have to go through them,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said before the team went through practice on Thursday.

Now that it’s upon us expect no small amount of hype to emerge. But when you break through the thicket of noise, the thing that makes this series so compelling from a basketball standpoint are the individual matchups. There are seven members of the 2011 Eastern Conference All-Star team competing in this series and six of them will be matched directly against each other:

Dwyane Wade vs. Ray Allen

LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce

Chris Bosh vs. Kevin Garnett

Expect the Celtics to approach their defensive assignments in a straightforward manner.

“The numbers bare out when we guard our own guys we’re pretty good and when we guard other guys we’re pretty bad, against this team in particular,” Rivers said. “They may look good on paper and they look good visually for two minutes, statistically they’ve been horrendous for us.”

Rivers was referring directly to the fullcourt defense Rajon Rondo employed against James in the Celtics 85-82 win back in February. While Rondo’s gambit stirred the Garden crowd and provided some inspirational moments, once the postgame fog of exuberance gave way to sober analysis, the matchup did more harm than good for the Celtics.

But Rondo is the wild card in this series because asking Mike Bibby or Mario Chalmers to stay with him for 48 minutes may be asking too much. That could mean Wade or James switching their assignments to try to contain Rondo. “We’ll see one of those guys guarding Rondo, which means one of them aren’t guarding Ray or Paul, so we’re good with all those,” Rivers said.

One thing the Celtics want to avoid are having to rely on double-teams or switches, but that’s easier said than done against this team.

“Every time we’ve overhelped in any series, including the New York series, we tend to hurt ourselves more than just playing our solid one-on-one defense with support,” Rivers said. “They run some stuff that’s honestly difficult to not switch, but we really try to avoid the switch as much as possible.”

Beyond the starters, Delonte West and Jeff Green will be asked to provide support.

“Jeff is going to have to be a great defender,” Rivers said. “He ran into that in the New York series where by the end of the series he was terrific on Carmelo [Anthony. That’s gives us another big, athletic body." Asked if Green could help with Wade, Rivers said,  "We may do it in stretches, but you’re asking for trouble in the long run."

SHAQ UPDATE

The plan is for Shaquille O'Neal to participate in the walkthrough segment of Thursday's practice and then try to get on the floor for for the full session on Friday. The Celtics will fly to Miami on Saturday so Friday will be the last chance for O'Neal to get on the floor before Sunday's Game 1.

KEEPING PERSPECTIVE

The Celtics know the hype will approach histrionic levels throughout the series, but they also know this is ultimately just one step in a larger process.

"It's the second round," Paul Pierce said. "It's the halfway point of where our goal is. I know there's going to be a lot of hype around it, like it's a championship series, but you've got to understand it's still just the second round. But a very big second round [series] because you’ve got two potential teams that can win it all. I’m excited. This is a great stage for basketball. It’s going to be great for fans and the guys that we have here love these type of series.”

PIERCE VS. LEBRON, III

Pierce has faced James two other times in the playoffs and the Celtics have won both series. In 2008 they beat the Cavaliers in a seven-game epic that featured brilliant Game 7 performances for both players. James scored 45 points in the 97-92 Celtics win, while Pierce went for 41 of his own. James got the better of Pierce in their individual matchup last season, but the Celtics won in six games.

Asked if it was personal for James to finally get past the Celtics, Pierce said, “Probably so at this point. When you lose to a team consecutive times in the playoffs — I mean, it would be personal for me. I’m sure he’s going to take it personal and you’ve got to expect his best.”

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