WALTHAM Paul Pierce is one of those rare NBA players you can legitimately call a professional scorer. But as the Boston Celtics get deeper into the playoffs, Pierce's role continues to evolve from being a big-time scorer to a much-needed defensive stopper.
Of course, no one is going to completely shut down LeBron James. But making him actually have to work a little bit harder can only help.
That certainly was the case in Boston's Game 3 win over the Miami Heat, a game in which Pierce's scoring (24 points) helped offset another big night scoring for James (game-high 34 points).
Being a more aggressive scorer against James does, in fact, help defensively.
For starters, it means James has to exert more energy on the defensive end of the floor, which you hope, over the course of a game, will make him a less efficient scorer. Plus if you're attacking him more offensively, it likely means you're not in foul trouble - something Pierce knows all too well, having matched up with Atlanta's Joe Johnson and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala prior to meeting James in the Eastern Conference finals.
Pierce reminded all that when given a chance to play relatively free of foul trouble, he can make things quite interesting at the small forward position in this series. The 24 points he scored in Game 3 were the most he has had thus far in this series.
Pierce and the C's would love another strong scoring game in tonight's Game 4 matchup.
Coach Doc Rivers said it wasn't just a coincidence that Pierce's scoring picked up when he finally had a game in which he wasn't in foul trouble.
"Paul has a tough job. He has to guard a pretty good player, a pretty physical player," said Rivers, referring to James. "And then he has to go and try to score 20 for us as well . . . In Game 1, he got an early foul that I thought threw him off. In Game 2, he was in foul trouble. In Game 3, he didn't have to worry about fouls."
The word of the day for the Celtics going into Game 3 was 'aggressive,' something they all seemed to buy into at the very start.
This was especially true of Pierce, who had eight points in the first quarter and went into the half with 15 points. The points were important, obviously. But just as vital to the C's success was that Pierce was managing to get to the free-throw line. His 15 first-half points came on 5-for-13 shooting from the field. However, Pierce did make all four of his first-half free throws.
"Fouls affect an offensive player just as much as it does on defense," Rivers said. "You don't want to drive anymore. You're worried about offensive fouls. It takes you out of your game. I thought the fact that Paul had low fouls allowed him to be very aggressive."
Not having to worry as much about fouls certainly helped.
But Pierce thought the Celtics did a better job executing their offense, and that was just as important in his success and that of the team.
"We moved the ball better," Pierce said. "The ball didn't stick -- they're a great defensive team when the ball is sticking on one side of the floor and they are loading up. We set harder screens. We cut a little bit better, and it frees up everybody when we play that way."