Pierce took all-around pounding

Late in the game, Paul Pierce could only reflect on the beating he and the Celtics took in Game 5 last night. Late in the game, Paul Pierce could only reflect on the beating he and the Celtics took in Game 5 last night. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Gary Dzen
Globe Staff / May 27, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — The hits keep coming for Celtics star Paul Pierce.

The latest came with 7:30 left in the third quarter in last night’s loss to the Magic in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference finals. Pierce took a hard foul from Magic center Dwight Howard and remained on the floor for almost a minute, clutching his left shoulder. As Pierce writhed, the Amway Arena crowd peppered him with boos. One glance around the arena revealed scattered signs questioning the toughness of the Celtics in general — and of Pierce in particular.

“I didn’t know that was legal,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Howard’s fouls, including the one on Pierce. “But he’s doing what he should do.’’

Pierce did what he does best, too, hitting both free throws after the foul, but the treatment he received from Magic fans was another example that Pierce’s reputation is not quite whole, even during a series when his game is.

Pierce entered the game as the Celtics’ leading scorer, averaging 24.3 points in this series. Despite a poor showing by the Celtics, Pierce again came to play, scoring 18 points and making all 10 free throws.

And on a night when the Celtics were decimated by injuries, Pierce toughed out 41 minutes, staying on the floor long after the outcome was no longer in question and saving Kevin Garnett’s legs and Tony Allen’s banged-up ankle for Game 6.

“It doesn’t feel good to lose two in a row,’’ Pierce said. “Obviously we’ve got to clean up some things.’’

Pierce’s reputation hasn’t been quite as clean since Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals against the Lakers. Pierce went down with a knee injury in that game and was famously taken off the court in a wheelchair. Pierce’s return to the game a short time later — and his subsequent performance as Finals MVP — led many to question the severity of the injury and caused some to label Pierce a drama queen.

One sign last night called the Celtics captain “RuPaul Pierce’’ after the celebrity drag queen.

It didn’t matter that after Game 1 of those Finals, Pierce could be seen hobbling down the steps of the makeshift podium for each of his press conferences after the first two games of that series. To opposing fans, it didn’t matter that Pierce was named MVP. And despite the fact that he’s been the best player for the Celtics in this series, Pierce can’t seem to shake that reputation among Magic fans that not all of his injuries are as serious as he makes them appear.

The injury Pierce suffered in the third quarter last night was, by his own characterization, “a stinger.’’ Pierce suffered the same injury against San Antonio in March and it happened again in practice later that week. He did not miss any games.

Pierce refused to blame Howard for his hard foul.

“I think that’s just playoff basketball,’’ said Pierce. “Both teams are getting hard fouls. That’s just part of the game. You’ve got to expect it.’’

Howard fouled Pierce similarly in Game 2, the Celtics captain saying that night, “It was a good foul, a playoff foul. It didn’t warrant anybody an ejection. When you get to the hole in the playoffs you expect hard fouls.’’

But overshadowing that foul and Pierce’s measured response to it was what someone claiming to be Pierce posted to Pierce’s official Twitter account (“Anybody got a broom?’’) following Boston’s win over the Magic that night. Pierce denied being the author of that trash talk, but with Howard having already been asked about it in the postgame press conference, the damage to Pierce’s reputation was done.

The Celtics are not done, and Pierce gets to return to friendly TD Garden for Game 6 tomorrow night. At least at home, Pierce can focus on basketball and ignore the rest of the noise surrounding his game.

“We’ve got to get a game,’’ said Pierce. “We obviously don’t want to come back here.’’

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