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BOSTON (CBS) – It’s fairly obvious to anyone watching the Celtics that Paul Pierce is hurt.
The Celtics’ captain is a shell of his usual playoff-self and the team’s offense is suffering. Pierce cannot get any lift on his jumper, and it ends up looking for like a flat line-drive that clangs off the front of the rim. He compensated in Boston’s 92-91 Game 1 victory by going to the hoop, hitting the charity stripe nine times.
But in Game 2, he didn’t do that. He hit the line just twice, putting his head down and attacking the basket just two times in 37 minutes on the floor. Usually when Pierce isn’t in the scoring aspect of the C’s offense, he’ll lend a hand in the assist game. But Monday night, he dished off just three helpers while going 2-for-9 from the field.
In a nutshell, Pierce was fairly useless Monday night. It’s hard to call anyone battling an MCL sprain useless, but the truth is the truth.
That is unlikely to change much in Wednesday night’s Game 3, even with the Celtics taking Tuesday off to travel to Philadelphia. That’s not to say Pierce couldn’t go off at some point in the series, but the Celtics shouldn’t be counting on it. If it happens, it’s an added bonus.
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Instead, someone else should be looking to take the lead.
Kevin Garnett did in Game 1, pouring in 29 points. But no one got hot Monday night until it was too late, with Ray Allen leading the way with 17 off the bench. The C’s tried to get Brandon Bass going early, and the ice-cold forward hit three of his first four shots. Unfortunately he missed his six of his next seven, taking shots away from Garnett; who was begging for the ball come the second half.
Now with the series shifting to Philadelphia tied at a game apiece, everyone has to step up. While Pierce should focus more on his passing, the bulk of that responsibility is on Rajon Rondo, who followed up his Game 1 triple-double with an eight point, 13 assist, seven rebound effort in Game 2. But it was a pass he didn’t make that drew attention at the end of the C’s loss. After hitting Ray Allen for a three to give Boston a 75-74 lead with 1:39 to go, Rondo neglected to find an open Allen on the next possession, instead clanging a Jay with the Celtics down one with 28 seconds left.
If Pierce doesn’t have it going, Rondo cannot miss an open Ray Allen late in the game.
Forward Mickael Pietrus is a prime candidate to not just take some minutes from Pierce, giving him a chance to actually rest the knee, but help with the scoring as well. He hit two straight threes in the third quarter Monday night, but was relegated to the bench after. He had been looking to get going since the beginning of the postseason, and finally looked like he was in a good rhythm, both offensively and defensively. Pietrus needs to find his “happy place” again Wednesday night.
It would be nice to have either of the Celtics guards, Avery Bradley or Allen, go off, but both are also slowed a bit by injury. The Celtics should try to get Garnett going early Wednesday night, but some shooting from the outside would help stretch the floor. If either Bradley or Allen can get in a groove early, it will pay dividends come the fourth quarter.
While a Paul Pierce 25-points, 10 rebound game is not completely out of the picture, it seems more and more unlikely with every minute the 34-year-old plays on his bad knee. In Game 3, if Pierce can’t get himself to the basket, he should focus more on setting his teammates up, either with his passing or as a decoy, and let them handle the bulk of the scoring.
If the Celtics can’t get something in place of Pierce’s offense, his offseason rehab program will begin sooner rather than later.