OFFSEASON

Pierce provides spark in return

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Pierce provides spark in return

BOSTON The return of Paul Pierce was sure to provide a lift to the Boston Celtics' offense.

But as impressive as Pierce the scorer can be, it's his all-around game that sets him apart from the masses.

And it was that all-around game that helped propel the Celtics to a 96-85 win over the Detroit Pistons, the C's first victory of the season.

Pierce, who had missed the first three games with a right heel injury, had 12 points, 4 rebounds and 5 assists while playing just under 23 minutes.

Having had one practice prior to playing on Friday, no one had any idea what to expect from Pierce against the winless Pistons (0-3).

"I was expecting to be me," Pierce said. "I don't settle for anything less. Doc Rivers wanted me to be aggressive and play the way I play. That's what I tried to do."

Indeed, Pierce's ability to hold his own defensively, help out on the boards and at times, become a scoring threat, was just what the struggling Celtics (1-3) needed.

"Having Paul back was a huge boost for us," said Kevin Garnett. "He gave everybody a little extra lift. When you see one of your best players out there . . . it was a great, emotional boost for us."

Rivers likes the spacing that having Pierce on the floor, provides his team.

"The space is so different," Rivers said. "I felt bad because I took Detroit head coach and former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank out to dinner last night. He said, 'Is Paul playing? I said, 'No, there's no chance.' "

You could sense that Pierce was getting closer to returning to action sooner rather than later.

His workouts in recent days were picking up, with less and less soreness afterward.

When asked about how the heel felt following Friday's game, Pierce said, "The rest of my body is sore, more than anything; being I haven't had any physical contact or any up and down basketball in quite a while."

Even though Rivers had told Frank that Pierce wasn't playing, Frank wasn't caught by surprise in how Pierce performed despite limited prep time.

"Paul changes the game for them," Frank said. "Regardless, I know he's only practiced once this whole year, but you just know what he's capable of doing. He's an outstanding defender as well."

And it is that complete game that will only improve as Pierce continues to get back into the flow of playing regularly.

"It's going to take me a little time," Pierce said. "Just to get back into pretty good game shape; the shape that I want to be in to play at the level that I want to play at. It'll come."

OFFSEASON

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

Celtics "emerged as a front-runner" for Al Horford

BOSTON – The Boston Celtics are poised to do the seemingly unthinkable: acquire an elite free agent in their prime. 

The Celtics are meeting with four-time all-star Al Horford tonight and as one league executive told CSNNE.com, Boston has emerged as a front-runner for his services after the Atlanta Hawks came to terms on a three-year, $70.5 million deal with Dwight Howard. 

And the Celtics will come armed with a four-year, $113 million max-salary offer for the 30-year-old Horford as well.   

In addition to the Celtics, Horford is also reportedly considering signing with the Houston Rockets.

Acquiring Horford would bolster the Celtics’ franchise on multiple levels. For starters, he would provide an upgrade roster-wise to a team whose progress has leveled out the last couple of seasons with first-round playoff exits.

Adding Horford greatly enhances the Celtics’ chances at making a playoff run that extends beyond just the first round. Adding Horford also provides the first real tangible sign that the days of Boston being perceived as no man’s land when it comes to free agents are in the past.

In addition, Horford’s leadership on the floor and inside the locker room can only strengthen a culture that’s deeply rooted in accountability.

But as the Celtics approach their recruitment of Horford with cautious optimism, they know all too well that they can’t afford to take anything involved in wooing him for granted.

While the Rockets may appear to be a team that Boston doesn’t have to worry too much about when it comes to Horford, there is one wild card franchise out there: Oklahoma City.

They’re the odds-on favorite to re-sign Kevin Durant, and adding a player like Horford to the roster could only strengthen their chances of keeping him long-term.

Oklahoma City has explored possible trade opportunities centered around Enes Kanter, which could go far in freeing up space to pursue Horford.

And as one of the six teams that Durant will meet with this weekend, the Celtics are well aware of the minefield that awaits them in trying to secure Horford as well as their top target, Durant.

The fact that Boston is on the short list for the top two free agents out there (Durant and Horford), speaks volumes as to how far this franchise has come from a perception standpoint in the eyes of the league’s best players.

Both Horford and Durant have talked in glowing terms about the Celtics franchise, head coach Brad Stevens and the players.

And the Celtics have made no secret about wanting both to eventually become Celtics, something that now stands as a legit possibility with Boston well in the mix for both players.

A. Sherrod Blakely can be followed on Twitter: @SherrodbCSN

OFFSEASON

Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

Hawks adding Howard could lead to Celtics signing Horford

BOSTON – It’s a toss-up as to which was celebrated more by Boston Celtics fans: Dwight Howard coming to terms with the Atlanta Hawks, or the fact that it significantly improves Boston’s chances of landing one of their top free agent targets Al Horford.

A league executive texted CSNNE.com that Howard being off the market and going to Atlanta, should make the Celtics the favorite to land Horford.

Acquiring Horford, a four-time all-star, would be the biggest free agent signing in the Danny Ainge era. Boston is scheduled to meet with Horford tonight and is expected to offer him a four-year, $113 million max contract.

But as much as the Celtics want Horford, their primary target remains Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant who may be more inclined to seriously consider Boston if they were to acquire Horford.