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."

Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

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Webber, Massimino among the Hall of Fame finalists

NEW ORLEANS - Chris Webber and Rollie Massimino are one step from the Hall of Fame.

The career 20-point-per-game NBA scorer and the coach who led Villanova to a stunning upset of Georgetown in the 1985 NCAA championship game were among the 14 finalists unveiled Saturday for this year's Basketball Hall of Fame induction class.

Webber played 15 seasons with five franchises, plus was part of Michigan's famed "Fab Five" group that headlined college basketball in the early 1990s.

"I don't know what I'm most proud of," said Webber, who averaged 20.7 points and 9.8 rebounds in his career and was a five-time NBA All-Star. "I'm proud to be in the room with all these great individuals."

Other first-time Hall of Fame finalists include longtime NBA referee Hugh Evans, Connecticut women's star Rebecca Lobo, two-time NBA scoring champion Tracy McGrady, five-time All-Star Sidney Moncrief, Baylor women's coach Kim Mulkey, Kansas coach Bill Self, and two-time NBA champion coach Rudy Tomjanovich.

"I still can't believe I'm here," McGrady said. "This is not even a dream come true."

Previous finalists returning to the ballot include star point guard and Olympic gold medalist Tim Hardaway, winningest all-time boys high school coach Robert Hughes, Notre Dame women's coach Muffet McGraw, former Wisconsin coach and four-time Division III national champion Bo Ryan and 10-time AAU women's national champion team Wayland Baptist University.

"We are grateful to the 14 finalists in the Class of 2017 for the impact they have had on the game we cherish," Basketball Hall of Fame Chairman Jerry Colangelo said. "To be named a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame is an incredible accomplishment."

Inductees will be announced at the Final Four on April 3. Enshrinement ceremonies in Springfield, Massachusetts are scheduled for Sept. 7-9.

Massimino, now an 82-year-old cancer survivor who is still coaching at NAIA school Keiser University in West Palm Beach, Florida, is a finalist for the first time. His Hall of Fame hopes have been backed by plenty of current and former coaches in recent months - including current Villanova coach Jay Wright, who presented Massimino with a championship ring from the Wildcats' 2016 NCAA title.

"Some days, we do take him for granted," Keiser guard Andrija Sarenac said. "But then you see him on TV so much, you see all these videos made about him, the movies about Villanova and everything, and it just hits you. You realize that he's a legend. I mean, your coach is a walking legend. With the energy and everything he comes in with, it's inspiring."

Finalists need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to be enshrined. Among this year's candidates who did not make the finalist group: Muggsy Bogues, Ben Wallace, Kevin Johnson, Maurice Cheeks, Mark Price, Lefty Driesell and Eddie Sutton.

Former New York Times sports writer Harvey Araton and former Turner Sports broadcaster Craig Sager will be recognized during Hall of Fame weekend as this year's Curt Gowdy Media Award recipients.

"A tremendous honor," said Sager's wife Stacy.

This year's lifetime achievement award recipients are former UConn coach Donald "Dee" Rowe and Michael Goldberg, who spent nearly four decades as executive director of the NBA Coaches Association. Goldberg died earlier this year.

"He bridged the gap between ownership and coaches," said New Orleans coach Alvin Gentry, who spoke about Goldberg on Saturday while wearing a bow tie - one of the signature wardrobe accessories that Goldberg donned for years. "He was just such a great guy."

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

Thomas on Skills Challenge loss: 'I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter'

NEW ORLEANS – Here’s hoping you got a chance to see Boston’s Isaiah Thomas compete in the Taco Bell Skills Challenge on Saturday.

Because after yet another defeat, Thomas says he’s calling it quits on the event.

“That’s my last time doing it,” said Thomas who competed in his third Skills Challenge. “I can’t get a win. It’s fun, but it sucks losing. I hate losing no matter what it is.”

And the loss, which came in the semis to Utah’s Gordon Hayward, came about because of Thomas’ inability to knock down a 3-pointer.

“I couldn’t make a shot. I guess it wasn’t the fourth quarter,” quipped Thomas afterwards.

Although each player had their own set of challenges to wade through, Thomas admitted he went on the defensive when both players were trying to move on to the finals with one made 3-pointer.

“I knew he was shooting kind of fast,” Thomas said. “A couple of those shots, I was just trying to hit his ball; I was trying to make sure he didn’t make it.”

Regardless of how the Skills Challenge ended – New York’s Kristaps Porzingis was the winner - it doesn’t take away from what has been a strong start to the season for both Thomas and the Celtics.

But he understands the challenge that awaits him and the Celtics going forward as they try to continue rolling along as one of the top teams in the NBA despite having a roster that has been riddled with injuries this season.

“We’re like a next man … everybody has a next man up mentality,” Thomas said. “We don’t use excuses on why we lose games or why players are out, stuff like that. We don’t think about it when players are out.  When we know somebody’s out, it’s like, ‘OK, next man up. We have to take advantage.’”