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Aggressive Pierce takes Bird's place

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was somehow appropriate that it happened here, in the best gym of them all, in front of the sad blue eyes of Larry Joe Bird, who had so many of these nights when he patrolled the hardwood for the team in Green.

Delivering a complete game worthy of Larry's best, Paul Pierce put the Celtics back in the playoff hunt last night, scoring 30 points with 7 rebounds, 8 assists, and 5 blocks in a series-knotting, 110-79, Game 4 dismantling of the Indiana Pacers. It was the most lopsided loss in Indy's playoff history.

"Paul Pierce tonight was magnificent," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "He attacked the basket, got to the rim, made them double-team him, then moved the ball. I thought he was just so aggressive. Even if he wasn't getting his shot, he was getting it for others."

Rookie Al Jefferson added, "He's the Truth. And the truth be told, he was just being himself tonight."

Looking like a man throwing heads of lettuce into an oil drum most of the night (10 of 15 from the floor), Pierce took apart the Pacers on their own court. The all-around outburst came on a night when the Celtics needed it most: Antoine Walker was not allowed in the building while he served his one-game suspension for tossing aside an official at the end of Game 3 and a loss would have put Boston in a 1-3 hole.

Pierce has been something of a Hub dartboard in this Celtic season. He's been ripped for not being a leader. He's been portrayed as a selfish player and enhanced the perception with more than a few public pouts aimed at Rivers.

At Friday's workout, before it was learned that Walker would be getting the night off, Pierce talked about needing to get more shots (he averaged 13.3 shots in the first three games). "I feel like the ball needs to be in my hands a little more," he said. "If I'm one of our best scorers, one of our best players, then I need the opportunity."

It might have sounded a little cocksure or even selfish, but what would we have said if Larry Legend made the same remark 20 years ago? We'd have all nodded our heads in agreement. For sure.

Pierce hit a 17-foot jumper in the 18th second of play and never cooled off. He had 8 points and four blocked shots in the first quarter, then erupted for 15 in the second period as the Celtics ran to a 56-47 lead at halftime.

He stopped shooting at the start of the second half, almost like Wilt Chamberlain the year the Stilt decided to lead the league in assists. When he stopped shooting, Pierce started doing the little things. Passes. Rebounds. Another block. Soon the lead was 76-60.

"That's my game," said Pierce. "I just wanted to mix it up the whole game and be aggressive. A number of guys played well. It wasn't just myself. We didn't get rattled. The crowd was in the game, but we were going to make our run. We settled down and got good looks and pushed the lead back up."

"Paul can do a lot of things to help you win," Celtics boss Danny Ainge said. "People said he had a bad game in the first game just because his shots weren't falling. Well, he had nine rebounds in that game."

A jumper by Pierce made it 82-63 with 9:50 to play and prompted Pacers coach Rick Carlisle to call another timeout. The Pacers were running out of time, in grave danger of giving back the home-court advantage. When Gary Payton scored on a drive to push the lead to 20, Pierce shook his fist in the air. Next time down the floor, Pierce found Raef LaFrentz for a layup off the break to make it 89-66.

His final moment came when he drained a rainbow jumper from international waters while being fouled and falling out of bounds. He got up, thumped his chest, missed the free throw, then came out of the game with 5:25 left and the Celtics leading by a whopping 100-68.

As Pierce came off and garbage time unfolded, boos rained down on the Pacers' heads and many fans bolted for the clean, wide streets of downtown Indianapolis. Even Larry left his seat behind the basket near the Pacers' bench. The loss had to sting, but watching Pierce light it up for the Celtics, Bird must have thought back to his own glory days in Green.

Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. His e-mail address is

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