It got a big laugh even though it might not have been entirely a joke.
Following his 36-point effort against the Timberwolves on Feb. 1, Paul Pierce said the scoring outburst proved he could still fill up the stat sheet “even at 31 [years old].” The performance came amid a wild stretch in which the Celtics played a grueling schedule, including two games without Kevin Garnett (flu), with a national TV audience for a series of marquee matchups.
Pierce did his part to wear as many hats he could, sometimes trading them on and off within games. Against the Wolves, Sixers (29 points on Feb. 3), and Knicks (26 points last Friday), he did it with his scoring. Against the Lakers on Feb. 5, he had to try to do it with his defense on Kobe Bryant.
With Garnett, Ray Allen, and an emerging force in Rajon Rondo on the floor with him, Pierce knows he doesn’t always have to be the offensive focal point anymore. Yet without James Posey this season, he realizes that much of the burden of covering the league’s top scorers will fall on him for longer stretches as the games become more important.
“I’ve become accustomed to it,” he said. “I get a feel of each and every game from the start of how it’s going to be played. What can I bring to the game to help my team knowing that every night is not going to be about my scoring? Every night is not going to be about certain parts of the game that I know I have great strengths in.
“I try to give the game what it needs. If it needs my rebounding and my defense, I try to put more of an emphasis on that. If we need my scoring, I try to do that also.”
The Celtics relied heavily on Pierce’s scoring during the playoffs last year — especially against the Cavs and Lakers — while he split defensive responsibilities on Bryant and Le-Bron James with Posey. But this year, without Posey and with Tony Allen still inconsistent as a defensive stopper, it is likely the defensive burden will fall much more on the captain.
“I have mentally and physically prepared myself for that,” he said. “[Posey] gave us great versatility and was a guy with experience guarding these guys. So I went into the summer saying that I may have to guard these guys longer, and that was the reason for me getting in better shape coming into the season.”
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, “He does have to play the better player every night. But I think last week was a strange week with the seven games in  days and everyone being sick. Paul knew it and rose to the occasion.”
But if he has to do it on both ends of the court to that extent all night, every night, there is a danger of a 31-year-old with a lot of miles on him flagging late in the year.
“We’re still trying to give him the rest,” Rivers said. “It’s just more difficult. Tony’s been in and out of the lineup because of injuries, then [Brian Scalabrine’s] been out. When you don’t have either one of them, then you’re really stretched.
“He’s an offensive player. He’s going to be an offensive player no matter what. What we do have to do is get him more rest in those games so he can be as effective as he can be.”
Catching a break
With an ice show invading the TD Bank-north Garden each year during February school vacation, the Celtics are used to hitting the road after the All-Star break. This season, the team is also away for two games leading into the break.
Rivers will give the team an extra day off before returning to practice Feb. 17 in Utah. Those not attending the All-Star Game have few restrictions over the four-day break.
“They’re going to do what they want to do anyway,” he said. “I think some guys are going to Mexico because they’re already in Texas [for Thursday’s game in Dallas]. A lot of guys, surprisingly, are coming back home.”
The down time can be helpful during the 82-game grind, but also can be dangerous if players attempt to pack too much travel and family obligations into a short window.
“Basically, you have to be strong mentally,” Kendrick Perkins said. “You’ve got to have enough discipline to get your rest. It’s kind of hard because you want to stay on top of your game and stay sharp too. You just have to find a way to do both.”
Scott Souza covers the Celtics for OT and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports