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Heart of The Truth

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Paul Pierce's performance last night left plenty to be desired.  His effort didn't.

Pierce is the captain and leader of this Celtics team, and he bears plenty of responsibility for the ending of the triple-overtime thriller that amounted to a 128-127 Game 6 loss to the Chicago Bulls.  The two turnovers in the third overtime along with the foul on Joakim Noah's breakaway dunk that disqualified him from the game come to mind right away.  There are some valid questions to be asked about other aspects of his play on Thursday night as well.

There are none about his heart.  Or his "interest level."  Or how much he cares.

His defense wasn't at its best all night. After all, Unstoppable John Salmons went for 35 points on 13-for-22 shooting, many of which came against Pierce early in the game before the Bulls went small to change match-ups and then forced switches on screens for some of Salmons's later buckets.  Credit the Killer Goatee for hitting his share of difficult shots as well.  But when push came to shove down the stretch, Pierce kicked another gear at that end of the floor.  As the Celtics rumbled back from a 12-point fourth quarter deficit, the captain locked in on Salmons, limiting his free space.  Salmons finished with just three points for the quarter, albeit on a big and-one aided by a Kendrick Perkins foul that brought the Bulls to within three points.

Playing with five fouls throughout much of the second and third overtimes, Pierce refused to give up any ground or laze off at the defensive end. With the Bulls leading by three in the final two minutes of double overtime, Pierce stuck with Unstoppable John every step of the way into the lane and blocked his jumper.  On a couple of other occasions, he stayed tight enough to prevent the Goatee from getting a shot off.

Twice he jumped lanes to poke away Chicago passes to the wings.  On the first of those occasions, he careened at full speed into the courtside seats trying to save the ball out of bounds.  The second time, he knocked the ball into the Bulls' backcourt but came up short on his dive as multiple Bulls sprinting back corralled the ball.  Those plays won't show up in the box score.  But they left little room for interpretation about his work ethic in this game.

Again, there is no claim here that Pierce did a world-class job in terms of defensive effectiveness.  Unstoppable John Salmons scored his points.  But for the most part, Pierce made him work for them.

On a night when he went to the locker room in the midst of the third quarter with blood dripping from his face, Paul Pierce logged 50-plus minutes for the third consecutive game.  He drew double-team after double-team every time he touched the ball, and the results were largely bad - several missed shots and a couple of costly turnovers.  He also hit four crucial foul shots to erase a deficit in the final two minutes of the first overtime period.

No matter what happened on the previous play, as the exhaustion moved nearer to its peak, the captain continued to push his body further through the pounding.

The results weren't there for Paul Pierce last night.  But the spirit that was left me coming away from last night's game as proud as ever to root for the defining face of this era of Celtics basketball.

My brain feels more deep-fried than the delicious Oreo zeppoles I stumbled across yesterday afternoon, and seven periods of basketball are blurring together in my mind.  Nonetheless, let's take a shot at conveying the rest of the thoughts from a game that makes me feel unjustified in using the term "thriller" for any of the previous contests in this series:

  • If not for my urge to shower The Truth with some love, Brad Miller would have been the primary subject of today's piece, and he earned it.  This guy is one tough dude.  He bounced back from Tuesday night's stitches and waning-seconds missed free throws with a superb performance that included two more three-pointers, the Bulls' final five points in regulation and a perfect set of five attempts at the free throw stripe.  Final line: 8-for-9 from the field, 2-for-2 on threes, 5-for-5 foul shooting, 23 points, 10 rebounds, plus-26.  Since I cracked wise on Monday about his three-point shooting, it's worth noting that he has hit five of six attempts in this series, the only miss coming on his 80-foot fling at the regulation buzzer after Paul Pierce missed a free throw.  Fine job by big bad Brad.
  • Another nominee for today's focus: the smoothest dude alive.  When Ray Allen's three bottomed to tie the game late in double overtime, I couldn't do much beyond burying my head in my shirt and mumbling to myself, "That trade has worked out well so far."  I don't have the words this morning to do his play justice.  Out-of-this-world performance, Ray.
  • Possibly lost in the shuffle of all that went on later: With the Celtics struggling in the first quarter, Brian Scalabrine drained a three, recognized a mismatch and went to the right block for a lay-up and hit two foul shots a possession later.  That's seven points in less than two minutes.
  • In addition to banking in a left-wing three, the Killer Goatee also converted a three-point play on which the contact of the foul caused him to leave his lay-up attempt short off the front rim, yet the ball rolled up, over and in for the basket.  That was the most awing of a series of impressive plays Unstoppable John Salmons made in this contest.
  • All three members of the Celtics' starting frontcourt fouled out of this game, and still the fact that Mikki Moore played less than three minutes is no criticism of Doc Rivers.  Nope, just a sad reflection of what Mikki brings to the table at this point.
  • Speaking of criticisms of Doc, I find the in-hindsight contention that it was a no-brainer to leave the Infuriated Infant in the game rather than inserting Tony Allen in the fourth quarter a bit unfair.  While I've made it clear that TA's particular brand of play nauseates me more often than not, this struck me as far more of a pick-your-poison situation than an open-and-shut case.  When the Bulls have gone small in this series, Unstoppable John Salmons has moved to the four spot and given the Celtics' bigs fits, namely Scalabrine and Glen Davis.  TA has done some good (and some disastrous) spot work on defense in this series, and I wonder if we would be singing a different tune if Doc had left Large Baby in the game only to see the Bulls torch the green defense.  Clearly, Doc's call didn't work out, but I don't buy that he did as egregious a job as I've seen asserted since last night. 
  • Yet again, Doc did a fine job drawing up plays out of timeouts.  It isn't his fault Eddie House didn't make sure he got behind the line before spotting up for his jumper in triple overtime.  The Celtics got looks when they needed them down the stretch.  As far as going to Rondo rather than Ray on the last play is concerned, in addition to the fact that I don't know all the options that design featured, it's worth remembering that Chicago also might have been aware that Ray Allen was the Celtics' top scorer that night.  While this isn't a suggestion to go away from him simply because the Bulls would try to cover him, it seems worth noting that these situations aren't as simple as "Just give it to Ray."
  • TA took and missed two of the Celtics' last three shots in regulation, but both also came with the shot clock expiring and little other choice to make.  I wasn't enamored with his play, but even when he was on the floor, he wasn't solely to blame.
  • In the interest of full disclosure before the TA bash party gets out of control, the reverse alley-oop in the third quarter was sweet.
  • As Doug Collins pointed out on TNT, the Celtics would be well served to look to force a switch on Paul Pierce anytime he is being taken by Kirk Hinrich when trying to isolate.  Hinrich continues to play rugged defense.
  • Rajon Rondo has been fantastic throughout much of this series, but that doesn't absolve his decision-making from meriting the "suspect" label on several occasions on this night.  He was lucky to stick around past the first quarter, and his shot selection (particularly on the game's penultimate play) could have been a lot better.  At the same time, he continued to add another dimension to this team with his work on the boards and also handed out 19 assists without giving the ball away once.  Some up, some down for the man averaging a triple-double in this series.  If this is his rough night for the week, I'll take it without further complaint.
  • Postscript to previous bullet: In the (presumably unlikely) event that Rondo finds himself ineligible to play on Saturday night, I would consider that his rough night for the week.  And my further complaints would not be with the league office.
  • I hate wasting a rough shooting night for Ben Gordon that also included foul trouble (and an eventual disqualification) as well as a technical for kicking a Gatorade cooler.  He will be more of a problem on Saturday.
  • Derrick Rose played 59 minutes, put up a 28-8-7 and made the defensive play of the night with his block on Rondo's jumper in the final seconds.  Hard to imagine that Chicago fans won't forgive another five turnovers and a couple of missed freebies at the end.  Seems to be a likable dude, too.
  • After playing perhaps the most disciplined game of his career on Tuesday, Kendrick Perkins reverted to form with another few foolish fouls.  He also didn't do much to prevent Brad Miller's five points at the end of regulation to force overtime. But if not for Perk, the Celtics may have never gotten to that point in the first place.  He played stout defense on the interior during the Celtics' big comeback run in the fourth quarter and even stepped out to block an Unstoppable John Salmons trey attempt down the stretch.  Perk arrived to meet all comers in the paint over a several-minute span as the green marched back into this one.  Good on him for that.
  • Excellent run to erase a double-digit fourth-quarter deficit for the second time in as many games.  Less excellent to a) accrue such a deficit once more and b) blow an eight-point lead after erasing said deficit.  Still, the Celtics scored 18 straight points over a six-minute span in the fourth quarter.  This was really cool.
  • On consecutive possessions in the first overtime, the Bulls' defense stifled the Celtics' offense to the point of forcing the C's to resort to Kendrick Perkins jumpers from 10 feet and beyond at the end of the shot clock both times.
  • The two teams combined to turn the ball over 30 times in 63 minutes.  Good work taking care of the rock.
  • While it would have been nice for him to get his feet behind the line, I still can't help but marvel at Eddie House's ability to come right off the bench and shoot as smoothly as he did on the jumper that brought the Celtics' within one late in triple overtime.  He looked putrid on his first three attempts early in the game, came in cold and nailed a bucket right away.  Confidence indeed.
  • Large Baby's impending paycheck this summer seems to rise with each passing game.  The shot clock-beater with 40 seconds left in the first overtime and the and-one lay-up early in the third overtime stand out as two of several high-significance plays made by the Nasty Newborn.  He had another shot bounce off the rim several times before dropping, and he even knocked down a couple of turnaround jumpers that he created for himself.  Pugnacious Papoose!
  • Great play, Joakim.

At some point, I would love to see a tally of the mileage I've covered while pacing three steps side to side in my living room over the course of this series.  Tomorrow night will only see that total rise.

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