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Paul Pierce Thriving With and Without Pressure

Paul Pierce isn't wasting any time making his mark when it counts this season. The Celtics have won their first two games of the 2009-2010 campaign and Pierce had a direct hand in silencing the Cavaliers on Tuesday and the Bobcats on Wednesday when each respective game called for it most.

Pierce recorded a respectable 13 points in the first half on Tuesday, was seemingly absent in the third quarter, but promptly returned in the fourth to bury LeBron James and the Cavs in the final four minutes. With Cleveland threatening Boston's surmountable lead, Pierce brought out his bag of nails and hammer for Cleveland's coffin.

He kicked things off with his patented step back jumper with 4:04 left in the fourth, pushing a four-point Boston edge to a six point, 85-79, advantage. LeBron knocked down two free throws two minutes later, whittling the margin back down to four, only to watch as Pierce used a Kevin Garnett screen, which he split with a crossover dribble, to meander into the middle of the lane for a short pull up jumper that dropped, giving Boston an 89-83 edge.  Cleveland responded with one of its 14 turnovers, and Pierce made them pay for the wasted possession.

With 30 ticks left and Anderson Varejao in his grill, Pierce calmly rose up, let his shot fly over Varejao's outstretched grasp and watched as the ball found nothing but net. He later added four free throws with under 20 seconds left to wipe out any shot of a Cleveland miracle.

Sure, LeBron totaled 38 points, which bested Pierce's 23 (but 10 in the fourth) and LeBron even garnered more attention, as his ferocious block on Rajon Rondo in the first quarter (can someone please give LBJ an upfake?) made it all the way to number one on SportsCenter's Top 10 plays yesterday. But despite those personal honors for James, Pierce's personal production meant more to his team - this is a team game after all - and he made sure his group left Cleveland with its first win of the season.

What can't be diminished is the fact that Pierce proved he could get it done in LeBron's palace, which wasn't necessarily the case last year. In two games in the Quicken Loans Arena last season (both blowout wins in favor of Cleveland), Pierce averaged a less than desirable 12.5 points and was essentially outplayed by James on both ends of the court. Those games helped establish LeBron's supposed superiority over Pierce, but following Tuesday's performance, if there was any mental hurdle for Pierce, it is now out the window.

Tuesday Paul flourished in one of the NBA's most difficult on-the-road atmospheres, taking advantage of the pressure to lead the Celtics down the stretch - pressure that will continue to be placed on his broad shoulders this season. Sure, the stats bode well for LeBron's personal resume, but I'm sure on Tuesday, he would have gladly sacrificed 15 of those points for a Cleveland victory.

On Wednesday, in the comforts of the TD Garden for the first time this regular season, eight of Pierce's 15 points slammed the door on the Bobcats for good late in the third period in the midst of the Kevin Garnett and Kendrick Perkins block party, the Rajon Rondo autograph session and the Mike and Tommy/Gerald Wallace crash course. There was no fourth quarter pressure this time around and no hysterical road crowd. Heck, there wasn't even a good defensive unit or perennial All-Star opposite Pierce in this one. Instead, Pierce knocked down back to back three-pointers from Rajon Rondo and followed those with an aggressive driving dunk (oddly becoming common for the 'aging' Pierce these days).

These first two games served as good practice for Pierce. Completely different situations with very similar results. If these first two contests are any indication, the Captain won't have any trouble guiding the Celtics in the clutch this season.

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