Pierce gets offensive in defending LeBron

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Pierce gets offensive in defending LeBron

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."

NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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NBA Question of the Day: Who will be the MVP?

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From now until training camps open, we'll be asking questions about the NBA and the upcoming season. Today: Who will be the NBA MVP?

BOSTON – It’ll be months before we have a feel for who the best players in the NBA will be this season.
 
But it’s never too soon to start looking at potential NBA candidates, is it?

This year’s MVP race will have plenty of contenders of course, some being familiar faces while there’s likely to be at least one or two who emerge as the season progresses.
 
Here’s a look at five players who should emerge as league MVP candidates this season:
 

5. Damian Lillard, Portland
 
Only 26 years old, the former rookie of the year award winner has been selected to a pair of All-Star games. But that’s not what will make him an MVP candidate this season. He plays for the Blazers, a team whose rebuild following LaMarcus Aldridge’s departure to San Antonio, has taken off quicker than expected.
 
Expectations were extremely low for a Portland team that shocked the NBA world and finished with the fifth-best record in the West and advanced to the second round last season.
 
Terry Stotts emerged as one of the league’s better coaches and guard C.J. McCollum garnered the league’s Most Improved Player award.
 
But the engine that makes the Blazers go is Lillard.
 
The 6-foot-2 guard’s ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and all points on the floor, makes him an extremely difficult cover.
 
And while the addition of ex-Celtic Evan Turner will help take some of the playmaking pressure off Lillard, this is still his team and will go only as far as he can lead them.
 

4. LeBron James, Cleveland
 
As we saw in Cleveland’s run towards the franchise’s first NBA title last season, James can become the most dominant player at both ends of the floor when the game matters most. And while those qualities will certainly make him one of the best in the game, James isn’t likely to be as dominant as we’ve seen in past years.
 
And the reason can be summed up in two words: Kyrie Irving.
 
Irving really had a coming out of sorts in the NBA Finals when he outplayed two-time league MVP Stephen Curry which was one of the biggest reasons for Cleveland’s championship aspirations coming to fruition.
 
And let’s face it.
 
James can win this award every year and those who vote for him would have plenty of legitimate reasons to do so.
 
But this season, James will likely be sharing more of the limelight than ever with Irving who may be called upon to pick up more of the offensive slack depending on how things play out with free agent J.R. Smith.
 

3. Stephen Curry, Golden State
 
As the reigning league MVP each of the past two seasons, it will be difficult for Curry to do enough to garner a 3-peat.
 
When he won his first MVP award, Golden State was poised to win its first NBA title in 40 years. And last season’s MVP hardware came at the tail-end of an unprecedented season in which Golden State became the gold standard for regular season success with 73 wins.

But this regular season will be one in which Curry’s numbers are likely to take a dip with the arrival of Kevin Durant.

Still, Curry will continue to be the player most of the league’s shooting guards are measured against and far more often than not, fall short in their efforts to be as good as Curry.
 
The addition of Durant will certainly shift some of the immense on-the-floor attention Curry usually gets, which should make for an easier time for Curry.
 
But here’s the thing.
 
Just like opponents will be focusing more attention towards Durant, the same holds true for the media and fans which means Curry may in fact become a more efficient player this year with fewer folks actually recognizing it.
 

2. Paul George, Indiana
 
With a year back in the game following a horrific knee injury, Paul George is poised to re-enter the league MVP race with a vengeance.
 
The 6-9 George comes into this season with a number of factors working out in his favor to at least give his candidacy a legitimate shot of getting started.
 
For starters, he’s as healthy as he has been in years. In the past few years, that has been one of the biggest factors that has kept him from being in the league MVP conversation. Pacers president of basketball operations Larry Bird has assembled a talented group whose collective strengths work well with what George brings to the game.
 
And speaking of the Pacers, those additions along with George’s ability should lift Indiana into being among the top five or six teams in the East. The closer to the top they finish, the better George’s chances become.
 

1. Kevin Durant, Golden State

Even though Durant has joined a Golden State team that has been to the NBA Finals each of the past two seasons, he will come in and immediately become the alpha male of this team.

Durant probably won't wind up winning a fifth scoring title, but he will still be among the leagues’ top scorers and lead the Warriors offensively.
 
And while the success of Golden State will hinge heavily on the contributions of many, their regular season success will be credited in large part to the addition of Durant which can only enhance his chances of winning league MVP for a second time in his career.
 
He will be the first to tell you that his focus going into this season has absolutely nothing to do with being the NBA’s MVP.
 
And I believe him.
 
Durant signed with Golden State to win a championship; it’s that simple.
 
And in doing so, he bypassed the comfort of staying with Oklahoma City or penning a new narrative in his basketball journey by joining a team trending towards a championship but not quite there yet.
 
But for him to win a championship, it would mean continuing to be a dominant force while meshing his skills with an even more talented group of teammates.
 
For Durant to put up numbers similar to those he has in the past AND win more games towards a title, will be more than enough to assert his place among the game’s top players.
 
It’s what you would expect from the MVP.