Not only is he the captain and longest tenured Celtic, Paul Pierce is the heart and soul of this team. Having persevered on some awful Celtics teams, when Pierce brings that toughness to the court, the Celtics become hard to beat. So it’s not hard to imagine how his team beat the Hawks in Game 2 without their mercurial point guard Rajon Rondo (who did a little chest waltz with referee Marc Davis that earned him a one game suspension) when Pierce went off to the tune of 36, 14, and 4.
And make no mistake – it’s not about him shooting the lights out, mind you. It’s about him not settling for jumpers, attacking the hoop, manufacturing points from the free throw line, which in turn seems to energize him on the defensive boards.
In Game 1, as you see in our breakdown above, he continually settled for open jumpers from distance. On the road in a hostile playoff environment, Pierce found out the hard way that those shots don’t always fall so easy. Perhaps he was rusty from the extra day layoff before the playoffs started, but that just sounds strange to me. He’s a veteran, who should savor the extra day to rejuvenate. But someone on the bench should have communicated to Pierce, telling him to do something else besides jack up long jumpers. This never happened, and the Celtics folded down the stretch amid bad shooting from the Celtics (38%) and Pierce (26%).
Pierce must have gone through the tape as we did, and realized that he didn’t take advantage of Joe Johnson quite like he should have. And certainly with Rondo nursing his bruised chest, sorry – ego, Pierce was the one who was going to have to bring it. And bring it, he did – from the opening tip where he grabbed the loose ball in the open court and executed a beautiful spin move layup. The first and fourth quarters proved pivotal for him, as he went 2-10 in the middle two frames. Comparing his stats from Game 1 to Game 2, notice that he shot better (if not great) and the disparity between the Free Throw Attempts and rebounds, two key indicators for the rest of this series:
To further illustrate how important Pierce is, let’s look at his regular season splits. His scoring, rebounding, three point attempts, and assists all go dramatically down when comparing wins and losses. This clearly shows an overall level of activity on both ends of the floor by Pierce, and will certainly doom them if he can’t maintain a high usage rate.
This wasn’t one of Paul Pierce’s best games, as he shot under 50% and committed a whopping 8 turnovers. However, the Celtics match up well enough with the Hawks where Pierce’s best isn’t necessary to win the game. Throw in the fact that Josh Smith is day to day and may be hobbled with a knee sprain, and the Celtics can easily come back to Atlanta up 3-1 in this series.
This promises to be exciting and dramatic, as two teams on their last waltz battle one last time for the chance to face a beatable foe in the second round. While Rondo coming back will certainly help, and Smith’s injury does no favors for the Hawks, it still rests on Pierce’s shoulders to carry them in this round by being active and attacking the lane, something he’s proven particularly adept at.