Well-rested Pierce key to a Celtics second-half run

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Well-rested Pierce key to a Celtics second-half run

DENVER The stretch run is here and Paul Pierce finds himself in an unfamiliar place right now - well rested.

Pierce's strong play which catapulted the C's to victory in eight of the last nine games, came too late for it to affect the voting by the league's coaches for All-Star reserves.

So instead he rested up for what he anticipates will be a tough road ahead with nine of the C's next 11 games away from the Garden.

For Boston to make the kind of second-half surge that we saw last season, they will once again need big-game performances from Pierce.

And that's why him not being selected might actually be a blessing in disguise for both him and the Celtics.

"When you play so many games, sometimes mentally and physically you get fatigued," Pierce said. "But with the way we were playing, who knows? Maybe the guys wanted to keep going. But I felt at this point in the season, my body needed, our minds needed ... there's so much we've been going through with the injuries. The last one with Barbosa, it really took a toll on us mentally even more."

Barbosa suffered a torn left ACL and sprained MCL in Boston's 94-91 loss to Charlotte on Feb. 11. Prior to his injury, Rajon Rondo suffered a torn right ACL injury and was lost for the season. Sandwiched between the two injuries is Jared Sullinger who underwent back surgery that will keep him sidelined for the rest of the season.

But the Celtics as they have done throughout their recent string of success, spend little time thinking or talking about players who are unable to perform.

Their success hinges heavily on how well they can re-create the consistent play they enjoyed leading up to the break.

Things certainly broke right for the Celtics during the lockout-shortened season of 2012. At the break last season, the Celtics were 15-17 with 17 teams having had more victories at that point. But after the break, the C's became a dominate team, racking up more wins after the all-star break than all but two teams (San Antonio and Chicago).

It should come as no surprise that the lift Boston saw in terms of wins coincided with Pierce playing some of his basketball of the season.

Prior to the break last season, Pierce averaged 17.6 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.3 assists per game.

Those are decent numbers, but sitting on a 15-17 record certainly did not do much to give anyone outside of the Celtics locker room much hope that things would turn around.

Did they ever.

The C's turn-around was fueled in large part by Pierce's ability to take over games more consistently.

Pierce's numbers after last year's All-Star break were an impressive 20.9 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game.

And while this team is completely different than last season's club, the keys to success then aren't all that different today.

"We just have to play our game, and that's defend, make it tough as we can on teams," C's Avery Bradley told CSNNE.com. "We don't care that much about what other teams are doing. We care more about what we have to do, in order to win. That's the way we played before the break and that's the way we have to play now that it's over."

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

Celtics miss an opportunity in first half with LeBron in foul trouble

CLEVELAND – There are 240 minutes of play in an NBA game, but Boston’s 112-99 Game 4 loss to Cleveland came down to seven (six minutes and 46 seconds to be precise).

That would be the amount of time left in the second quarter that LeBron James spent on the bench with four personal fouls (a first for him in the first half of an NBA playoff game ever) and Boston ahead by 10 points.

Boston could not have asked for a better scenario than that, especially considering how well they had played up to that point in the game and again, knowing that James wasn’t about to set foot back on the court until the third quarter.

But here’s the problem.

Boston’s 10-point lead when James left with four fouls.

Halftime rolled around and Boston’s lead was still at just 10 points.

Celtics players agreed that not finding a way to increase their lead with James out was among the more pivotal stretches of play in Game 4.

“They did a really good job of not letting it (the 10-point lead) get out of control while he was on the bench,” Boston’s Marcus Smart told CSNNE.com. “Every time we scored, they came back and scored.  They answered back with everything we answered.”

While many will point to that stretch as a time when the Celtics failed to make the necessary adjustments to increase their chances of winning, it wasn’t as if the Cavs are a one-man team.

“They still have two All-Stars out on the court,” said Boston’s head coach Brad Stevens, referring to Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love. “With the best player in the world they go to unreal, but they’re still a pretty darned good team when those guys are out there.”

Irving had a playoff career-high 42 points which included him scoring 12 of Cleveland’s 14 points in the final 6:46 of the second with James on the bench.

“He’s one of the best point guards in the NBA, and you know, you can tell he puts in a lot of work in his game, a lot of respect from myself, my teammates,” said Avery Bradley. “We have to do a better job at defending him as a unit, trying to make everything hard on him. He definitely got a great rhythm going tonight, and I felt like we had a chance to make it harder on him.”

James still finished with a strong stat line for the night – 34 points, six assists, five rebounds and a blocked shot.

As good as he was on the court, the Celtics have to be kicking themselves for not doing more with the time James on the bench in the second quarter which in hindsight, was among the bigger factors in them now returning home facing elimination as opposed to being tied at two games apiece in this series.

“What are you going to do?” said Cleveland’s Kevin Love. “You have to continue to fight through it. At halftime, we were down 10. We made some adjustments on the defensive end and we just fought; we needed to. They got everything out of us tonight in that second half, but we played more inspired basketball as well.”

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

Stars, studs and duds: Celtics don't take advantage of LeBron's foul trouble

CLEVELAND – Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Tuesday night’s Game 4 matchup between Boston and Cleveland which ended with the Cavs rallying for a 112-99 win. Boston now trails Cleveland 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

 

STARS

Kyrie Irving

He was simply the best player on the floor by a mile in Game 4 as he tallied a career playoff-high 42 points with 21 coming in the pivotal third quarter.

LeBron James

Despite picking up four personal fouls in the first half – a first for him in a playoff game ever – James bounced back with a dominant performance. He finished with 34 points, 15 of which came in the decisive fourth quarter. He also had six assists and five rebounds.

 

STUDS

Jae Crowder

He continues to be one of the more consistent Celtics in this series. In Game 4, he had 18 points on 6-for-12 shooting with eight rebounds and four assists.

Kevin Love

Most of Game 4, Kevin Love found ways to make life difficult for the Celtics. He ended up with a double-double of 17 points and 17 rebounds with five assists and two blocked shots.

Avery Bradley

Boston’s Game 3 hero couldn’t deliver like that in Game 4, but Bradley still managed to score a team-high 19 points to go with five rebounds, three assists and two steals.

 

DUDS

Boston’s sense of urgency

They had the Cavs in prime position to be beaten. But they didn’t play with the kind of effort and focus in the second half, that we saw through most of the first. And that 6:46 stretch in the second quarter when LeBron James was on the bench, and they didn’t increase their lead? That was a major, major factor in the game’s outcome.