Add resiliency to the long list of attributes that helps define Paul Pierce as a basketball player.
After suffering through an abysmal 0-7 first half in which he scored just two points (on two free throws), Pierce responded with 19 over the last 24 minutes and the Celtics overcame their largest halftime deficit of the season (15 points) to knock off the Indiana Pacers at home, 103-94.
With Kevin Garnett missing the game with a bruised right hip, the onus was on the Celtics' captain to pick up the scoring slack, but Pierce just couldn't find the range in the first two periods, despite coming off a 29-point performance against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday in which he shot 6-6 from three-point nation.
Pierce and co. missed Garnett's offense in the first half, but not having him on the defensive end hurt the C's even more, as the Pacers scored a resounding 57 points over the first two periods. A noticeable lack of energy on the Celtics' part was to blame, and if Eddie House didn't come off the bench to knock down all four of his shots in the second quarter and score 10 points, the damage could have been much worse .
Whatever message Doc Rivers relayed at halftime might want to be employed for future first half beat downs on the part of the opponent, as Pierce led a much more enthusiastic group of Celts out of the halftime gate.
It wasn't necessarily a lack of offensive aggression that held Pierce back in the first half, but rather a decisively cold shooting hand. But Pierce lived and thrived at the free throw line for the majority of the night (12-13 from the stripe), and brought the Celtics to within two points (66-64) on two freebies with 5:16 left in the third and tied the game on a free throw (77-77) with 0.8 seconds left in the third frame.
But the first three quarters were merely child's play for Pierce, who finally found his range and an offensive groove in the final 12 minutes, which didn't bode well for Indiana down the stretch.
After knocking down a technical free throw courtesy of T.J. Ford, Pierce finally converted his first field goal of the game with 9:01 left in the fourth - an assertive drive to the whole and emphatic finish when he got there, which made it 84-81, Boston.
After knocking down two more free throws with 4:16 left, Pierce made sure the Celtics capitalized on an Indiana shot clock violation (courtesy of a Kendrick Perkins block on Dahntay Jones), by supplying his only three-pointer of the night, making it 93-86 with 3:35 to go.
Pierce's jump shot, possibly already thinking ahead and plotting for Friday's Christmas Day showdown in Orlando, realized it was needed to fight off the Danny Granger-less Pacers in the fourth, and Pierce sealed the win with two free throws with 1:22 left (97-90, Boston) and his patented fade away with 57.2 to go, making it 99-90, Boston and closing the door on a Pacers comeback. Pierce dropped 14 of his 21 in the fourth quarter - a number that can only enhance his sterling reputation for performing his best when the game matters most. He accounted for over half of Boston's total points in the final period and was just two points behind Ray Allen (23) for the high in team points.
Not lost in the midst of Pierce's scoring outburst was his attention to the defensive end of the court. He finished the game with a season-high five steals, with a handful of those taking place amidst the second-half comeback.
Possibly the most lethal part about Pierce's entire game is the fact that he remains unfazed, even amidst a dreadful first half. His ability to keep attacking, slash through the paint and draw fouls makes him one of the league's most formidable threats, because even when a team thinks they have him down, he's more than capable of turning the tables and exploding for a monster quarter like last night's final frame. It certainly helps matters that Pierce is a mere one-hundredth of a point behind his career-high in free throw percentage at 84.2 percent.
That number is always vital to Pierce, who spends so much time at the free throw line throughout the course of the season. His blistering performance from the line last night served dividends, as it appeared to keep him in some sort of shooting rhythm, no matter how slight it might have seemed. Pierce never seems to get discouraged when the numbers are against him after a tough first half, and that ability to keep pushing forward when his team desperately needs him, serves as crucial evidence as to why he is this squad's captain.
Pierce's resilience was the difference in the game last night, just as it's been one of the definitive trademarks for the Celtics this entire season.