Pierce is no longer team’s only weapon
Paul Pierce took his spot at the podium after the Celtics’ 94-85 victory last night and let out a sigh. This one is over, but the series didn’t have the same grueling effect on Pierce as it did two years ago.
In 2008 Pierce and LeBron James engaged in a back-and-forth battle that stole the show when the Celtics and Cavaliers met in the Eastern Conference semifinals. It took seven games before the Celtics secured the series en route to an NBA championship.
This time around, James (27 points, 19 rebounds, 10 assists) remained the focal point of the Cavaliers, but the Celtics’ fate didn’t rest on Pierce’s back. Kevin Garnett (22 points) and Rajon Rondo (21) were the leading scorers for the Celtics in the Game 6 clincher, while Pierce added 13 points, 8 in the third quarter.
“That’s what makes us so strong, when you do your scouting report on us you have to worry about four, five, six different guys night in and night out,’’ Pierce said. “I think with us you can’t just key in on one guy. You can say I’m our leading scorer, but you got four or five other guys that could be our leading scorer and it’s not by much. I’m only our leading scorer by like 2 points from the second-leading scorer, 3 points from the third-leading scorer, so it can happen from anybody on any given night. That’s what makes us so great, when we move the ball and we have so many people we can rely on.’’
Pierce had plenty to worry about in this series, sharing the responsibility of keeping watch over James. He didn’t take much credit for guarding James, because “it really wasn’t that grueling for me because I was in foul trouble.’’ When Pierce wasn’t handling keeping up with James, it was others, such as Ray Allen and Tony Allen, who stepped in.
“He’s a special talent,’’ Pierce said about James. “Obviously, he’s the best player in the NBA, tough to guard one on one, but you have to give a lot of credit to the other guys. He did his job, got me in foul trouble, but I’m a lot fresher in this series because of foul trouble probably than I was two years ago. When I played against him two years ago, he just completely wore me down. But those other guys, they played their hearts out on defense. it wasn’t just me it was Ray, Tony, Kevin, Rasheed [Wallace], [Glen Davis].’’
The offensive numbers didn’t always jump off the page for Pierce, but last night when the Celtics needed a boost, Pierce came up with the added energy.
After putting up 2 points in the first half, he emerged in the third quarter to score 8 points and drain 2 of 3 3-pointers to help the Celtics extend their lead to 76-67 at the end of the period. For the series, Pierce averaged 13.5 points a game, adding 22 assists and 7 steals.
“I would say the biggest change that we have this year is that we are a balanced scoring basketball team,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “We don’t rely on one guy anymore, we don’t rely on two or three. We just keep looking for the right place to go, and that’s easy for our coaching staff, but very difficult for the players, because the players have to want to do that and trust that and they all do.’’
Monique Walker can be reached at email@example.com.