About four months ago a friend of mine cut me off mid sentence when I said, "I know Paul Pierce is not is good as Kobe but..." He argued that I had said enough, revealing a shocking amount of bias in the process. And he was right. But I blog about the Celtics. So I feel compelled to write about Pierce, particularly after last night's game against the Indiana Pacers. And for the record I'm not as biased as Tommy Heinsohn, a.k.a. the Minister of Information.
In reviewing last night's game it was clear that Pierce did not come out of the blocks on fire. He missed his first shot of the night, a jumper from just above the foul line. Pierce's second attempt was a downright ugly three point shot from the corner that bounced off the side of the backboard. Unfortunately Gerald Green was not there to throw down a ridiculous dunk. To his credit Pierce did not continue to fire jumpers. Rather he drove to the hoop on consecutive possessions. The result? He assisted on an Eddie House basket and earned a trip to the foul line, where he knocked down both attempts. On Pierce's next opportunity Danny Granger fouled him before he even got started. Once again the former Kansas star knocked down both freebies. After a couple of Troy Murphy's free throws Pierce found House again. This time it was a three-point bucket that countered a collapsing Pacers' defense. The Truth then sat for the remainder of the quarter. Overall I was excited to see Pierce attack the basket, knock down his free throws and create for others.
At the start of the second quarter it was more of the same. Pierce drove the lane and threw a nice pass to Scot Pollard. Unfortunately Pollard channeled his inner Mark Blount and fumbled the pass away. Then after a foul parade Pierce broke the sloppy play with a pull up jumper just inside the foul line. Overall the game was disjointed and ugly to this point (20 fouls overall). But Pierce was still working within the offense and not forcing the issue. For the next four minutes the teams traded buckets, turnovers and fouls. Pierce took part with another made basket in the lane and a turnover stemming from an out of control drive. But then, as I said in the open game thread, the plot thickened. With 3:07 remaining in the half and the game tied at 38, Pierce drove into the lane. Jamaal Tinsley reached in with his left and hit The Truth's arm. However, the Iowa State product then slapped Pierce in the head with his right hand. Though he wound up like he intended to throw a haymaker, Tinsley's slap appeared to be more annoying than painful. Regardless Pierce was furious and stalked around the court before finally knocking down his first free throw. Then, according to Mike Gorman (the camera did not catch it), Pierce did a push up or two before knocking down another freebie.
Did Pierce overreact? Maybe. Was Tinsley just letting off steam after being whistled for a foul when he and Kevin Garnett hit the deck for a loose ball? Who knows? Nothing matters except for the fact that Pierce entered full fledge attack mode. Following a Pacers free throw and a TV timeout Pierce drove the lane, dunked, screamed and scowled all the way down the court. It was a message dunk for sure. But it did not end there. On the ensuing possession Pierce scowled, clapped and glared at anyone who would meet his gaze as Brian Scalabrine shot free throws. On the next possession Pierce drove, was fouled, scored on the continuation, gave high fives and chest bumps to the bench, talked a ton of trash and hit the free throw. The Celtics continued to feed the hot hand and Pierce rewarded them by isolating on Shawne Williams and blowing by him for a lay up. Following a timeout Pierce picked up where he left off with his glaring routine as Mike Dunleavy shot free throws. Finally the Pacers doubled The Truth, which led to a missed Scalabrine three. Pierce righted the ship on the next possession by making it to the line yet again where he scored his eighteenth and nineteenth points of the half. He then stole a fumbled Dunleavy pass, worked the clock down, drove to the hoop and drew a foul with 2.8 seconds remaining. Did he hit both shots from the line? Of course. The score was 52-43. That's a 14-5 Celtics run from the point Tinsley raised Pierce's ire.
From there Ray Allen carried the third, the Celtics cruised to their sixth victory and The Truth finished with 31 points (14-14 from the line!), 11 rebounds, 6 assists, 2 steals, a block, a couple of push ups and only one turnover. Of course Pierce forced some shots in the second half, brought the offense to a halt with some prolonged isolations and infuriated Pacers fans with his over the top emotional displays. In many ways it was the best and worse of Pierce. At times I am terrified when he dribbles, his passion can be misplaced and he has the potential to simultaneously bring a disorienting amount of good and bad to the team. Yet a lot of the negatives have faded with the arrival of Garnett and Ray Allen. And Pierce's toughness, numerous ways to score and desire to win remain. Just watch part one of his Beyond the Glory (courtesy of freeTA42), remember that he came close to never playing basketball again/dying and realize that Pierce's ego and game will not derail this team. Injuries, depth, coaching, superior competition? Maybe. But in the meantime let the anonymous coaches and general managers take their shots while the Celtics, Pierce included, continue on their quest to prove themselves. Check out the aforementioned Beyond the Glory below and read Indy Cornrows' recap. I'm out.