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."

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

Celtics' team plane receives bomb threat

BOSTON -- There was a bomb threat to the Boston Celtics’ team plane to Oklahoma City on Saturday afternoon, but no one was injured.

The incident will be investigated by NBA security which will work in conjunction with the FBI on this matter which was one of several hoaxes called into airports across the country on Saturday.

News of the bomb threat was first known when Celtics forward Jae Crowder posted an Instagram photo showing players departing the plane with the caption, “BOMB THREAT ON US”.

Celtics officials declined to comment on the matter and instead referred all bomb threat-related questions to the league office.

Messages to the league office were not immediately returned.

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

Celtics' ball movement among NBA's best, with or without Thomas

BOSTON – When it comes to winning basketball, keep it moving – the ball that is – has become a staple of the Celtics this season. 
 
And lately they’ve had to do it without Isaiah Thomas, the team’s leading scorer at 26 points per game as well as their top assists guy (6.2) who will miss hish third game in a row Sunday in Oklahoma City because of a right groin injury.
 
The Celtics have split their first two games without Thomas, with the most recent being a 101-94 home loss to Toronto on Friday.
 
When it comes to this team and ball movement, fans are just as divided when it pertains to whether the Celtics move the ball better without the high-scoring Thomas in the lineup. 
 
Regardless of what fans think they know about this team and how they move the ball, the numbers paint a very clear picture that this team’s ball movement is among the best in the NBA, with or without Thomas in the lineup. 

And that will be important on Sunday against an Oklahoma City team that doesn’t rely on the ball swinging from one side of the floor to the other, nearly as much as the Celtics. 
 
The Thunder, led by MVP candidate Russell Westbrook, are dead-last in the NBA when it comes to passes made per game (267.1). 
 
Meanwhile, the Celtics are at the opposite end of the passing game spectrum, averaging 331.7 passes per game, which is second in the NBA (Philadelphia, 354.3).
 
And in the two games without Thomas, Boston has averaged 347.0 passes per game, which ranks second in the NBA in that period of time. 
 
In addition to missing his points and assists, the Celtics must also find ways to make plays in filling the void left by a player who has the ball in his hands a lot of the time. 
 
Thomas’ usage percentage (percentage of plays used by a player while he’s on the floor) of 32.9 percent ranks seventh in the NBA, ahead of notable stars such as San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (30.9 percent), Portland’s Damian Lillard (30.8 percent), New York’s Carmelo Anthony (29.5 percent), as well as Cleveland’s LeBron James (29 percent) and Golden State’s back-to-back NBA MVP Stephen Curry (28.2 percent).
 
So, considering how involved Thomas has been in the team’s offense, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that the numbers in terms of passing and ball movement are better without him than they are when he’s on the floor playing. 
 
What should be surprising is that the gap statistically without him, isn’t greater. 
 
Boston has been a top five team when it comes to assists this season, currently third in the league with 24.7 assists per game. In the past two games without Thomas, the Celtics’ assists numbers have risen to 26.5 per game, but that only ranks fifth in the league in that span.
 
When it comes to potential assists and secondary assists (a.k.a. the “hockey” assist), Boston’s numbers have improved slightly without Thomas as well, but in each category Boston is ranked second in the league. 
 
And that ranking is with, and without Thomas in the lineup. 
 
While it’s not clear if Thomas knows just how close the numbers in terms of ball movement are with and without him playing, he is acutely aware that there are some who believe they are a better team in terms of keeping the ball moving without him.
 
“I can’t control that,” Thomas told reporters on Friday. “At this point, I laugh about it. I know what I mean to my teammates. I know what I mean to this organization, to Brad Stevens.”