Pierce, James continue healthy playoff rivalry

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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."

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Did Suns ask Josh Jackson to cancel his Celtics workout to keep him from Boston?

Danny Ainge made no secret of being miffed when Kansas small forward Josh Jackson canceled his workout with the Celtics in Sacramento at the last minute. 

The Celtics, of course, passed on Jackson and selected Jayson Tatum of Duke with the third overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night.

Suns GM Ryan McDonough's comments at Jackson's introductory press conference lend some credence to the theory that the canceled workout was part of Phoenix's plan to keep the Celtics from selecting Jackson and leave him for the Suns at No. 4.

Check out this portion of Jackson's presser via a tweet from Mike McClune of KPHO-TV: 

"I think you guys who know me well know how competitive I am. Look, it is a competition," said McDonough, a former assistant GM to Ainge with the C's "The Celtics were ahead of us at No. 3 and they could have selected whoever they wanted to. I think they got a very good player in Jayson Tatum, but that doesn’t mean B.J. [Armstrong, Jackson's agent] and I and...other members of my staff couldn’t talk and try to formulate the best plan to get a player we were really high on to a place we felt he really wanted to go and would be a great fit for him.

"We played by the rules – I guess,” McDonough said to some laughter in the room.

Jackson will certainly get more playing time with the rebuilding Suns that the contending Celtics. Ainge called Jackson "a terrific kid and a good player” after the draft, and said the Celtics were set on Tatum all along, even if they hadn't traded the No. 1 pick.

Jackson said his decision to blow off Ainge coach Brad Stevens and assistant GM Mike Zarren after their cross-country flight was "last-minute" and his plans to work out "just didn't work out."
 

BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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BOSTON SPORTS TONIGHT PODCAST: Is trading for Paul George worth the risk?

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0:41 - Michael Holley, Kayce Smith and Tom Giles recap their thoughts on drafting Jayson Tatum and trade rumors involving the Celtics.

6:21 - Ian Thomsen joins BST to discuss if it would be worth trading for Paul George as a one-year rental and if there would be a chance he could still around long-term if traded to Boston.

11:13 - Evan Drellich joins BST to talk about Rick Porcello’s outing, the Red Sox offense coming to life, and Doug Fister being claimed by the Red Sox. 

15:10 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely look back at the Celtics/Nets trade, what the assets have turned into, and if Danny Ainge has done a good job turning those assets into players.