Dan Shaughnessy

Bad thoughts choked off by captain Pierce

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Dan Shaughnessy
Globe Columnist / May 5, 2008

No signs from Paul Pierce. No crop circles sheared into his hair. No "V" for victory, no foam-finger hoisting, and no ambiguous hand signal that could be mimed by the mayor or sanctioned by the commissioner.

No controversy for the captain. And, best of all, no Game 7 loss, which would have put the 2007-08 Celtics in the local gulag of all-time chokers.

Pierce led all scorers with 22 points in yesterday's 99-65 matinee dismemberment of the Atlanta Hawks, which bordered on cruelty. Clearly, the Celtics were intent on avoiding any place in the local Hall of Shame, so they did what they should have done much sooner and finally sent the Hawks south for the summer.

It was a great day for the Green, but a dreadful afternoon if you were tuning in from Altoona seeking Game 7 drama. This one goes right into the pantheon of Game 7 stinkers, alongside the finale of the 1985 World Series (Royals, 11, Cardinals 0) and the Pacers' crushing of the Celtics (97-70) in this very same building just three years ago.

"I really had no doubt in my mind how we was going to come out tonight," said Pierce. "You kind of saw it from the guys after Game 6 on the plane. There wasn't a lot of talking and we knew that we let a couple games get away in Atlanta and I just knew we was going to take care of business tonight."

And how. What a beating. The Hawks came out and played the sorry style that yielded a 12-33 road record this year. They hit only three of their first 15 shots and six of 23 in the first quarter, which ended with the Celtics leading, 27-16.

It got worse for Atlanta. These Hawks would beat the Celtics in the Penn Relays every time, but they weren't going to win a Game 7 in the Garden. No way. No how. Especially not with a point guard who willed himself invisible, Wade Boggs-style, in every Garden game (Mike Bibby had 2 points and 2 assists in 25 minutes of the finale). The only question that remains is how in the name of Pervis Ellison did Atlanta beat the Celtics three times in the series?

A lot of Green people carried pressure into this one. Coach Doc Rivers was carving out a legacy as the hardwood's Marty Schottenheimer and Kevin Garnett was on the spot for not taking the big shots at the end of Game 6. Ray Allen was taking heat for a horrible heave at the end of Game 6, but most of the weight was on the back of the captain.

Pierce's series shot totals were down (10, 10, 13, 14, 17, 12, and finally 20 yesterday). He didn't go to the basket and draw fouls in his usual manner. He was fined $25,000 for flashing a "menacing gesture" late in Game 3. He missed an offbalance layup at the end of Game 4. Before Game 5, he issued a statement apologizing for the Game 3 demonstration. He also said he was done talking for the rest of the series. In Game 6, he fouled out with just less than five minutes left (on a horrible call) and drew a technical for tossing his headband in disgust. Rivers said he was "disturbed" by the technical.

So there was a lot of frustration and anxiety entering Game 7, and the Celtics played with appropriate urgency. They never let up. With the score 68-34, Garnett, Allen, and Rajon Rondo all dived on the parquet to save a loose ball. The Boston bench was still standing and cheering when it was 73-37.

Pierce was the last of the New Big Three to exit. Rivers sent him back out for the start of the fourth when it was 79-43. Pierce came off the floor a minute later and was showered with love.

"I was telling everybody I was so happy that the game was at 1 o'clock," said Pierce. "Because there was no way I could have sat at home all day today because of my anxiousness to get back on the court after Game 6 from the way I had been feeling the past couple days."

What about his uncharacteristic silence from Tuesday to Sunday?

"[That was] me and the stuff that was going on with myself," he explained. "I just didn't want to be a distraction to what we was trying to accomplish. I just need to take a step back to myself and not be a distraction to others and everything that was going on, on and off the court. I just didn't want to bring that attention back on my team so we could just focus on playing basketball."

Sounds like a little silent fury - which is a good thing if the Celtics can apply it to the opponent, as they did yesterday.

The seven-game set proved only that the Celtics are better than the Hawks, which we already knew. The rest of the first-round series is best forgotten. In the end, the victory came with more relief than resolution.

The Celtics open their Eastern Conference semifinal series with LeBron James and the Cavaliers at the Garden tomorrow night. The Green still need to establish that they can win a game without the magic of Gino.

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

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