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It's a tough act to clean up

Page 2 of 4 -- The coach talked last week about Pierce needing ''to grow." By that, he meant mature. At 6 feet 7 inches, Pierce has done all his growing. Pierce resisted Rivers's system all season; there's no secret why he has a reputation for being a selfish player.

But the Pierce behavioral thing is an ongoing story. You may recall that he was not the most popular player on the 2002 World Championship team in Indianapolis. (Must be something about that city.) It wasn't because he didn't play well. It's because of what happened off the court. One USA Basketball official called Pierce ''disruptive." The coach of that team, George Karl, wouldn't dispute that.

''I never got to know Paul as well as I would have liked," Karl said this past week. ''But when we got beat and were told to be humble and take our losses like warriors, he decided to jump out there and fight the negativity. And because I was the head man, I had to call him out on it.

''None of us wanted to play those last two games [after being eliminated from the medal round]. None of us wanted to watch film. But you've got to do that. And Paul just pushed the line, pushed the line. His reaction to the negativity, to a crisis, was that we all have to protect ourselves, our own egos."

I don't know if Pierce can get past the Game 6 histrionics. I don't think he could have if the Celtics lost that game, and I won't be the least bit surprised if he's not back. It's a stunt that, unfortunately for him, has legs, especially the facial garb for the postgame news conference. As Rivers noted, if the guilty party doesn't feel like a complete nitwit after the fact, what is the coach supposed to tell all the impressionable kids who just saw the team captain go Ozzy Osbourne on everyone?

Ainge and Rivers deserve credit, but this could be trying to put the toothpaste back in the tube. Everything the NBA has done in the last 15 years has led to this: the glorification of the individual, the dunk contests, the incessant clamor during games. Ainge was the one who traded for Payton, Walker, and Davis. He now has the chance to make good on his claim.

Just a little talking out of school

Columnist Ian O'Connor of USA Today and The Journal News of New York has a book out called ''The Jump," which chronicles Sebastian Telfair's high school career in New York and the events that led to him being drafted by the Portland Trail Blazers. In one part of the book, Danny Ainge is chatting up Robert Swift before a high school game last season -- which, under NBA rules, is verboten. (A player who is not draft-eligible has to have his name released by the NBA as an early-entry candidate for NBA people to speak to him or about him; a league official said Ainge would not get into trouble, but should have known better.)   Continued...

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