Pierce finally finding his rhythm

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Pierce finally finding his rhythm

BOSTON Paul Pierce has to go.

He's too old, too slow, too out of shape to give the Boston Celtics what they've come to expect from him.

Go out and get Memphis' O.J. Mayo, Atlanta's Josh Smith, somebody -- anybody -- before Pierce's trade value dips any lower, some said.

The rumblings to make a major change steadily grew as the Celtics losses mounted, but coach Doc Rivers remained committed. When Pierce's health and conditioning improved, Rivers said, he would start playing like the Paul Pierce fans have come to love.

That time appears to have arrived, as the Celtics (7-9) are in the middle of their best stretch of play this season.

Monday night's 31-point beatdown of the Orlando Magic was Boston's second straight win, and third in the last four games.

And the key to that success? Paul Pierce.

In the last four games, Pierce has averaged 18.3 points, 7.5 assists and five rebounds while shooting 45 percent from the field.

But the numbers only tell part of the story about how Pierce has willed this Celtics team back into, at the very least, what looks like a playoff contender.

Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, was not surprised that Pierce struggled to start the season.

"He had zero training camp," Ainge told CSNNE.com, referring to the right heel injury that forced Pierce to miss all but one practice in training camp as well as the first three regular season games.

"And even when he came back, he wasn't 100 percent. It's a credit to Paul that he's out there playing, and he's trying to get himself in shape and trying to do what he can to help our team."

Making matters even more complicated was a report that teams were calling the C's to see about Pierce's availability.

"You can't pay attention to that," Pierce said. "That's part of the business. You just gotta do your job as a professional each and every day. That's about it."

Lately, that's exactly what the Truth has done for the Celtics who will face Orlando Thursday -- a team that they embarrassed in every way imaginable on Monday.

The Magic scored a franchise-low 56 points, the kind of performance nobody saw coming when you consider the Celtics were without their starting backcourt of Ray Allen (ankle) and Rajon Rondo (wrist), along with three key reserves.

"They came out and just absolutely dominated us with their energy and their defensive intensity," Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy said after the loss. "That's the most dominating defensive performance I have ever had against me.

Van Gundy added, "It's the first game in my career I've been through where not one guy played well. We didn't have one guy. That was an absolute beat-down, and in most senses it was much worse than the score indicated."

And while it was the C's defense that carried the day, Pierce's play was once again instrumental in Boston getting its first win of the season over a team with a winning record.

"Throughout this short season, it's funny how people expect you to start off perfect," said Boston's Kevin Garnett. "It's really a testament to Paul, who he is and what people know him to be. You have no idea how hard it is to get ready for an NBA season, to prepare, drills, sand hills, sand dunes, lines, running, weights, beach, 4:30 a.m. workouts, two-a-days it's still not an NBA game.

Garnett added, "You can do all that stuff, you can do all the conditioning and stuff and all the shooting that you want; it's still not an NBA game."

As far as Pierce's early struggles, Garnett reiterated Ainge's thoughts on Pierce playing through the right heel injury.

"People wrote him off, which was funny," Garnett said. "But it gave some clarity to how people see him. He's in a rhythm now. He's never shy of confidence. He's the Truth. It's good to see him playing good basketball. He's always been our leader since I been here, and he will always be our leader. That's what it is."

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics make big plays down the stretch

BOSTON – When the fourth quarter rolled around on Friday night, the Boston Celtics found themselves in a down-to-the-wire fight with the Sacramento Kings. 

It was the kind of game that in the past has brought out the scrappy, get-it-done-somehow brand of basketball that has in many ways come to define the Celtics under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens. 

And it was on full display Friday night as the Celtics made all the big plays at both ends of the floor down the stretch to beat the Sacramento Kings, 97-92. 

After Sacramento cut Boston’s lead to 90-87, Al Horford drained a 3-pointer to make it a two-possession game again. 

Isaiah Thomas came up with a pair of free throws that turned out to be huge, because shortly after he made them the Kings got a 3-pointer from DeMarcus Cousins that made it a 95-92 game.

The Kings had a chance to tie the game late in the fourth when Horford was credited with his sixth block of the game, this time on DeMarcus Cousins.

Horford was immediately fouled and went to the free throw line where he sealed the victory by making a pair.

Those were the kind of plays we saw often last season being made by the Celtics who finished in a tie for the third-best record in the East. 

This year, not so much. 

“For the most part we got what we wanted (in the fourth quarter) and we got the stops we needed even,” Thomas said. 

Which is the kind of game Jae Crowder and the rest of the guys who have been here awhile, have grown accustomed to.

“We got back to being the aggressive team,” Crowder said. “We came out and imposed our will early; that helped. But if the game comes down to what it was tonight, we have to be the team that comes out on top. It was like a playoff game, real physical. We have to grit it out, grind it out.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Friday night’s game.

 

STARS

Al Horford

So this is what an ultra-aggressive Al Horford looks like? The four-time All-Star had a season-high 26 points which included knocking down four three-pointers to go with eight rebounds and six blocked shots – yes, six blocked shots.

DeMarcus Cousins

While his fiery temper hasn’t died down completely, his incredible offensive skills and brute strength is what folks are talking more about, finally. He led the Kings with a game-high 28 points to go with nine rebounds, three assists, a steal and four blocked shots.  

 

STUDS

Isaiah Thomas

His streak of being Boston’s outright scoring leader ended at 14 games, but he’s more than happy to take a back seat for one night if it means getting a victory. Horford led the charge on Friday night, but Thomas still chipped in with 20 points, seven assists and two steals. 

Matt Barnes

Although he missed eight of his 11 shots from the field, the 36-year-old Barnes was rewarded for his hustle and effort as he finished with a double-double of 12 points and a game-high 16 rebounds.

Jae Crowder

Boston needed tough plays to be made on Friday and Crowder was up the challenge all night. He finished with 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting to go with three rebounds, three assists and a steal. Good things happened when he was on the floor, evident by his game-high plus/minus of +15.

 

DUDS

Rudy Gay

He finished with 13 points on 6-for-14 shooting but the Kings needed more from their second-leading scorer who finished almost seven points below his 19.6 points per game average. That stands out on a night when the Kings lost by just five points.