Pierce, James continue healthy playoff rivalry


Pierce, James continue healthy playoff rivalry

MIAMI LeBron James and Paul Pierce are about as familiar as two opposing players can be this time of year.

When James and the Miami Heat square off against the Captain and his Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals tonight, it will mark the third straight season James and Pierce have met in the playoffs and the fourth time in the last five seasons.

It's the kind of annual get-together that makes it more than just another matchup of talented players.

It plants the seed for a rivalry, something that at least one of James' Miami Heat teammates believes is possible with James and Pierce.

"They've played so many times in the playoffs," said Miami's Dwyane Wade. "They're such good offensive players and good defenders, so they're going to make it tough on each other."

That has certainly been the case when the two have faced off in the playoffs.

When Boston eliminated James (then a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers) during the C's 2008 title run, James averaged 26.7 points but shot just 35.5 percent from the field. Pierce's numbers in the playoffs are a bit down against James-led teams as well.

In their 2008 second round playoff series, Pierce's scoring average dropped slightly (from 19.6 points in the regular season, to 19.4 against the Cavs), but there was a noticeable drop-off in his field goal percent (45.7 during the regular season, down to 40.4 against Cleveland).

The two have met a total of 18 times in the playoffs since 2008, with each walking away victorious nine games.

To further prove just how difficult each has made life for the other in the playoffs, Pierce has shot 40 percent from the field while averaging just 17.6 points in the 18 games against James-led teams.

James, a three-time league MVP, has lit up the C's for 27.1 points per game in the playoffs, but has shot just 41.6 percent from the field in those games. To put that in perspective, James' worst season shooting the ball was his rookie year when he connected on just 41.7 percent of his shots.

"When you play against someone constantly, they become some kind of rival," Wade added.

But most individual rivalries involve a certain amount of disdain or outward dislike for that player and his franchise.

You don't get that between Pierce and James.

Because of that, the Pierce-James duel doesn't necessarily have the same kind of edge or sizzle to it that existed in the 1980s with Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, or the C's in their annual postseason duels with the Detroit Pistons.

"It is what it is. You have great teams; we both play on great teams," Pierce said. "It just so happens that we have to face one another. After a while, it just becomes mutual respect for the things he's done in this league, the things I've done in this league. It's a very competitive battle."

Celtics bench hurting with Smart out


Celtics bench hurting with Smart out

The Boston Celtics don’t reveal a ton about what happens behind their closed-door practices, but there were a couple of significant narratives that developed in the preseason.

Chief among them was the development of the bench which on many occasions, outplayed the starters.

Leading the second team surge on many days in the preseason was Marcus Smart, whose absence during the first two games of the season has been obvious.

Smart suffered a left ankle sprain injury in the Celtics’ final preseason game, an injury that CSNNE.com reported at the time would sideline him for a couple of weeks.

A few days later, Smart confirmed the report by indicating he would be out of action for two weeks from the time of the injury.

That puts his return to the floor being Nov. 3 at Cleveland which would mean he would be missing the first four games of the season.

One of the reasons why the second unit had so much success against the starters, was the rhythm they developed playing with and off one another.

Trying to re-establish that on the fly without Smart has proven to be challenging at times for Boston’s second unit.

In the season-opening win over Brooklyn, Boston’s second unit was called upon to simply hold down a lead in the fourth quarter that peaked at 23. But the lead steadily shrunk and head coach Brad Stevens was forced to bring his starters back into the game.

And last night at Chicago, the second unit was never able to deliver the kind of impact-making plays that Boston’s backups can do.

But it goes beyond what Smart can do on the floor when he plays. Like most of his teammates, Smart’s presence has a way of allowing his other teammates to get into a rhythm and get accustomed to whatever role they are asked to play.

Without him, everyone’s job shifts just a little bit.

“They’re trying to figure it out on the fly,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “They had a few practices, maybe one tough day of practice without him; it’s tough. They’re trying to figure it out. There’s no other way to figure it out but in the game.”