BOSTON -- Tom Thibodeau watched from the sidelines as Paul Pierce struggled.
The Boston Celtics captain shot 5-for-17 from the field against the Chicago Bulls, including 2-for-9 in the first half alone. Yet the Bulls head coach and former Celtics assistant coach saw something different than a tough shooting night. He saw the player who was named the 2008 NBA Finals MVP, one of the toughest competitors in the league, and a shooter who could not be left alone.
"A guy like Pierce, hes such a great scorer, he scores so many different ways, youve got to guard him with your team," Thibodeau said following the Bulls 100-99 overtime win. "He missed some shots he normally makes, but you have to make him play in a crowd and challenge his shots as much as you can. He still has the ability to make it even if you defend it well. He was off a little bit so that was our good fortune, but Pauls a great player. Hes been a great player for a long time.
"Every time he shoots the ball, I think its going in and he plays you at a great speed. You know hes always under control, he has great strength. People dont realize what a great athlete he is. So you guard him with your team."
Then there was Kevin Garnett, who shot 1-for-10 through three quarters and scored 13 points between the fourth quarter and overtime.
"Garnett just works the game," said Thibodeau. "The first half, nothings really going and then in the end, making big shots, big plays, he impacts the game in so many different ways. As does (Rajon) Rondo. Theyre so disruptive."
Pierce, Garnett, and Rondo are the only remaining members of the 2008 championship team. Thibodeau has experienced their talent firsthand and believes they have enough to drive the Celtics.
What he saw on the court Friday night isn't a reflection of how good he thinks they can be.
"The Celtics are a great team," he said. "I think (Avery) Bradley being out made it a little different for them, hes been playing well. But they have a lot of new players, who as you can see are getting more comfortable. And once they get some games together, this team is going to be very, very dangerous.