Boston Celtics

Pierce's leadership not wavering amidst C's up-and-down play

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Pierce's leadership not wavering amidst C's up-and-down play

CLEVELAND With a nickname like the Truth, you know Paul Pierce at some point is going to probably keep things more real than some might be comfortable with hearing.

But the Boston Celtics are at a critical point in the season.

Pierce has seen too many highs and lows to shrug off the importance of where the C's stand now.

They are on the tipping over the ledge of mediocrity, and the fall is a painful one.

If not for the Los(t) Angeles Lakers and their woeful play, more attention would be cast on the Celtics and their problems this season.

For Pierce, who has won a title in Boston as well as been a part of a team that lost 18 straight, this season has to rank up there as being one of his most frustrating.

When they lost 18 straight, there was a clear and well-defined reason: that team sucked.

And when they won it all in 2008, that was just as clear: they were smashing teams all season, so winning it all was what they were supposed to do.

But this team, one that was built to be a contender, has been a major letdown. Team Flatline has shown little emotion on the floor or inside the locker room, giving no hint or clue as to whether they understand that there needs to be a heightened sense of urgency.

Right now.

Pierce doesn't know the answer to why this team continues to be so inconsistent, but he wouldn't rule out them lacking an understanding of how important these regular season games are for them to be a team that can go deep into the playoffs.

"A lot of guys on this team never won, been deep in the playoffs," Pierce said. "Don't understand the building process it takes. That's me, Rajon and Kevin's job to help them understand."

Leadership comes in various forms, obviously. And that has been among the many issues that the Celtics have been dealing with this season.

But like most of their problems, it's not on one player or one group or one unit to make it all better.

It has to be a collective turn-about, otherwise it will fail.

About the only positive the Celtics can take from their play this season, is that there's still time to make a strong finish and position themselves well for the playoffs because no one in the East has truly separated themselves yet.

Despite all the up and down play, Pierce remains confident that this group as they are assembled, is still good enough to make a run even if their play suggests otherwise.

"I know we got the pieces in here," Pierce said. "I know we can compete with anybody in the East, anybody in basketball. I'm looking around the league and there's no clear cut team that you can say that just stands out. You can say Oklahoma, maybe them. We played them and showed we could play with them, we beat them on our home court. Miami has their issues. We feel like we can play with them. So that's the frustrating part; how wide open this thing is this year. For us to be sitting (around) .500, this is the point in the season when you want to start making a run, start developing consistency."

And no sooner did the words roll off his lips, Pierce responded, "every time I say it we take steps forwards and then steps back. It's too far in the season for that now."

He's right.

And Tuesday's loss to Cleveland was yet another game in which the C's had their chances, only to squander them away down the stretch.

It is far and away one of the most trying times in Pierce's career, as he tries to get his teammates to see this squad as a work in progress and not a team that's going to continue to get worked over every night.

"I just have to continue to try and lead by example," Pierce said. "Show them on a daily basis how hard it is, how hard you have to work. On top of telling them and explaining ... keep them confident; that we can play with anybody. We know we can do this. Some of these guys sometimes get discouraged. But you have to keep pounding in their head, 'we can beat anybody.'"

NBA adds 'Harden Rule' and 'Zaza Rule' for players' safety

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NBA adds 'Harden Rule' and 'Zaza Rule' for players' safety

NEW YORK - NBA referees will be able to call flagrant or technical fouls on defenders who dangerously close on jump shooters without allowing them space to land, as Zaza Pachulia did on the play that injured Spurs star Kawhi Leonard in last season's playoffs.

Officials will also make sure jump shooters are in their upward shooting motion when determining if a perimeter foul is worthy of free throws, which could cut down on James Harden's attempts after he swings his arms into contact.

The new rules interpretations are being unofficially called the "Harden Rule" and the "Zaza Rule". The Washington Wizards accused the Celtics' Al Horford of a dangerous closeout on Markieff Morris that injured Morris and knocked him out of Game 1 of their playoff series two weeks before the Pachulia-Leonard play.

Leonard sprained his ankle when Pachulia slid his foot under Leonard's in Game 1 of Golden State's victory in the Western Conference finals. After calling a foul, officials will now be able to look at a replay to determine if the defender recklessly positioned his foot in an unnatural way, which could trigger an upgrade to a flagrant, or a technical if there was no contact but an apparent attempt to injure.

"It's 100 percent for the safety of the players," NBA senior vice president of replay and referee operations Joe Borgia said Thursday.

The NBA had made the freedom to land a point of emphasis for officials a few years ago, because of the risk of injuries. 

Officials can still rule the play a common foul if they did not see a dangerous or unnatural attempt by the defender upon review. Borgia said Pachulia's foul would have been deemed a flagrant.

With the fouls on the perimeter shots - often coming when the offensive player has come off a screen and quickly attempts to launch a shot as his defender tries to catch up - officials will focus on the sequencing of the play. The player with the ball must already be in his shooting motion when contact is made, rather than gathering the ball to shoot such as on a drive to the basket.

"We saw it as a major trend in the NBA so we had to almost back up and say, `Well, wait a minute, this is going to be a trend, so let's catch up to it,"' NBA president of league operations Byron Spruell said.