Pierce picked his spots, then went on a roll
The shot clock was ticking down late in the fourth quarter. Paul Pierce knew he had to do something. Each of the other four Celtics on the court had already touched the basketball, yet it had yielded little.
Pierce grabbed the ball, took a glance and as the clock went from 8 to 7 seconds, he made his move.
With Ron Artest — who had kept Pierce from scoring much during the first three games of the series — in his face, Pierce blew by him before scoring over Kobe Bryant for a 3-point play. That play with less than two minutes remaining gave the Celtics a 9-point lead on the way to a 96-89 win last night in Game 4 of the NBA Finals.
Pierce made most of his points coming off of pick-and-rolls that were set by either Kevin Garnett or Kendrick Perkins.
“The guys were setting great picks and I think that was big,’’ said Pierce, who led Boston with 19 points, adding 6 rebounds and 5 assists. “Once I got into the pick, I just tried to take advantage of it.’’
Leading up to Game 4, Pierce was shooting just 36 percent and had missed 23 shots. During those three games, Artest’s sole responsibility was to defend Pierce, which Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he did well.
Pierce, on the other hand, didn’t want to give Artest credit. Instead, he said foul trouble and not being able to find a rhythm were bigger factors. With Pierce playing 36 minutes, he was able to find his spots.
“I thought we did a better job of going to him,’’ coach Doc Rivers said.
If there was any adjustment Pierce made after the first three games, it came from Rivers. Before Game 4, Rivers showed Pierce how the Lakers were giving him room to drive. Even if Artest was crowding Pierce on the perimeter, Rivers told him to put his head down and go to the basket — which led to Pierce’s biggest basket of the game.
“I told him, ‘Boy, there were some great driving lanes for you. You’ve got to take them,’ ’’ said Rivers.
On the first play of the game, Rivers had Pierce drive to the hoop. That resulted in a foul, and the coach said he thought that helped Pierce get into the right mentality. In the first quarter, Pierce scored in a fury, at times grabbing the ball and going right at Artest. Of the Celtics’ first 14 points, Pierce scored 10, which gave the Celtics an early lead.
“He attacked early in the first quarter,’’ Perkins said. “He got us into a pretty good start.’’
Pierce played the role of passer in the second and third quarters and Rivers asked Pierce to guard Bryant at times.
Then there were the heroics of Nate Robinson and Glen Davis, who carried the Celtics for much of the second half. That didn’t bother Pierce, but Rivers wanted to get Pierce back in the game.
“We can’t forget he is our best scorer,’’ Rivers said. “I think at times we do that.’’
Once Pierce reentered the game with less than four minutes left, he made a clutch 15-footer over Artest before driving by him on the next possession — which is what the Celtics were looking for.
“It’s scary once he gets it going,’’ said Tony Allen. “We need him to be big for the rest of this series, too.’’
Nate Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.