Pierce’s words hit home

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / June 8, 2010

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When he said it during the first-round series against the Heat, Paul Pierce and the Celtics were sitting pretty. Pierce had just sank a game-winning buzzer-beater to put the Celtics up, three games to none, with a chance to close out the series in Miami. The Celtics, Pierce said, had no plans to return to South Beach until the summer.

Not wanting to return to Cleveland for a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference semifinals was a given. So the Celtics wrapped it up in six.

But Pierce’s confidence overflowed in the conference finals. The Celtics took two games in Orlando, and as he walked off the floor after Game 2, Pierce winked to the fans at Amway Arena and told them, “See you next year.’’ He averaged 24.3 points for the series, and even Magic coach Stan Van Gundy acknowledged that the only person in the series who didn’t have a bad game was Pierce.

During the late moments of the Celtics’ win over the Lakers in Game 2 of the Finals Sunday, Pierce told fans at Staples Center the same message: “We ain’t coming back to LA.’’

The 2-3-2 Finals hit the Garden tonight. Theoretically, Boston can close out the series at home. However, only twice in the history of the format (since 1985) has the home team won all three middle games.

The Lakers have firsthand experience, and Rasheed Wallace was a part of it.

Largely an underdog after reaching the 2004 Finals as a No. 3 seed, the Pistons went to Los Angeles and split the first two games at Staples Center, then went home to The Palace of Auburn Hills and polished off the Lakers in five.

The other instance came two years later when the Heat, trailing, 2-0, in the Finals, won three in their building and closed out the series in Game 6 in Dallas on the strength of Dwyane Wade’s 36-point masterpiece.

The difference between Pierce’s past proclamations and this latest one is that Pierce has yet to establish himself in this series. He scored 24 points in Game 1 — 9 in the first quarter when the Celtics shot just 6 for 14, and 11 in the fourth quarter when the game was already lost. In Game 2, Pierce missed nine of his 11 shots, scoring 6 of his 10 points from the line.

Pierce acknowledged he struggled in Game 2, and even though his matchup with the Lakers’ hired nuisance, Ron Artest, was a focal point coming in, he said his struggles have more to do with missed opportunities.

“I think I rushed a lot, man. I don’t think it was too much of what Ron did,’’ Pierce said. “I had three or four open shots off the pick-and-roll that guys got me open that I missed. I missed a layup. I love the looks I got. I’m happy with that, but at the same time I’m not going to force the issue on offense.’’

Pierce had the luxury of having an off game on the same night Ray Allen put on the best shooting display in Finals history, draining a record eight 3-pointers and finishing with 32 points.

“I don’t have as big a burden on me offensively on my team as Kobe [Bryant] does,’’ Pierce said. “When I’m not making buckets I’m out here trying to rebound, defend, make plays for other guys. I didn’t try to do everything.’’

Pierce went 2 for 8 in the third quarter and didn’t take a shot in the eight minutes he played in the fourth. One attempt from the baseline in the third quarter nearly was an air ball, and Pierce said he was a little hesitant on the shot after being hounded all night.

“I was so surprised I was open on the baseline I almost didn’t hit the rim,’’ he said. “I’m not really used to getting that wide open too much in games. I was antsy. They got me a couple of layups, which was great. I made some free throws.’’

Pierce is 8 for 24 in the series and he’s missed all four of his 3-point tries. But he’s 18 of 19 from the foul line, and his 13 rebounds and eight assists are second on the team. He’s played 86 of 96 minutes, most on the team.

“I’m fine with the way I played,’’ Pierce said. “I thought I played a solid game, and we got the win.’’

With the series up for grabs, he’s calling for three more.

Christopher L. Gasper of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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