Could Pierce really come off the bench next year?


Could Pierce really come off the bench next year?

By A. Sherrod Blakely

WALTHAM Paul Pierce has established himself as one of the premier players in the NBA, and has a ton of accolades to validate it.

How about a new one, like Sixth Man of the Year?

Earlier this week, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge discussed the possibility of Pierce coming off the bench next season which would in all likelihood mean Jeff Green would replace him as a starter.

On Friday, Ainge clarified his comments.

"I said that just to get everyone excited," quipped Ainge. "So yeah, I'm sure I'll be hearing from Paul."

While Ainge said on Friday that it will be Doc Rivers' call on who starts at the small forward position, Ainge did say that Green will have a more expanded role next season if he's still with the C's.

The 6-foot-9 forward is a restricted free agent that Ainge hopes to re-sign this summer to a multi-year contract.

"Jeff playing a bigger role, if he comes back, I think that will be the case if he were to come back," Ainge said. "This core group of guys don't have to play the exact same way, or with the exact same players. There are some things that can be tweaked."

Pierce has appeared in 964 regular season games for the Celtics, and has started all but three times.

A career 22.2 points per game scorer, Pierce has led the C's in scoring every year since 2001. This past season, Pierce averaged 18.9 points per game while shooting 49.7 percent from the field and 86 percent from the free throw line - both career highs.

The idea of having him come off the bench has more to do with getting more from Green than it does any shortcoming in Pierce's game.

"He's proven himself," Ainge said of Green having a more prominent role with the Celtics in the near future. "He's been a starter on a 50-win team (in Oklahoma City); probably the third-most important contributor to the team."

Even though he averaged 9.2 points per game and shot 49.7 percent from the field - identical to Pierce's field goal percentage this season - in 22 minutes off the bench, there were some who felt Green didn't do enough to help the C's this season after they traded away defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins whose Oklahoma City Thunder are still in the playoffs after the C's postseason run ended Wednesday night in Miami.

Ainge said he was pleased with what Green accomplished this season in limited minutes off the bench.

"We knew he wasn't going to start," Ainge said. "We knew he wasn't going to play 35 minutes (per game). We know what Jeff Green is. He's a highly efficient offensive player that plays good defense, has great character, 6-foot-9, versatile and he's young. He's only going to get better because of his work ethic and character."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

Celtics-Sixers preview: Road has been kind to C's lately

BOSTON – For most teams in the NBA, road games are a necessary evil. 
Not for the Celtics. At least, not lately.
The Green Team hits the road for its next three games, and that has been a good thing – a real good thing – lately. 
Boston (11-8) has won its last four road games, the kind of success that breeds a heightened level of confidence heading into this current trip which begins tonight at Philadelphia. 
And it only helps that they hit the road coming off a 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday. 
“We have to carry that momentum with us,” said Boston’s Jae Crowder. “You know how...anytime in this league, the momentum, you have to stay with it. We’ve been having success away from home. It was big for us to get this win (over the Kings) to start the road trip off.”
A big part of Friday’s victory was the play of Al Horford who finished with 26 points, eight rebounds, and six blocked shots. The points and rebounds for Horford were both season-highs.
Horford’s breakout performance came on the heels of a 121-114 loss to Detroit, a game in which Boston’s $113 million man (Horford) only took five shots.
“Coach [Brad Stevens] didn’t say anything about going to him just specifically,” said Boston’s Isaiah Thomas. “We just found him and made the right play and when he got it he was very aggressive.” 
Part of Horford’s success was that he was in more of an attacking mentality. But he also benefited from a Kings defense that didn’t double-team him nearly as much as the Pistons did. 
“I got a lot of early looks in the game and like I said [following the Pistons loss] I think the Pistons did a good job defending and doubling and forcing me to pass the ball. [Friday night] I had more opportunities to be aggressive.”
Facing a Sixers team that ranks among the NBA’s worst in several defensive categories, Horford and the rest of his Celtics teammates should have ample opportunities to make plays offensively. 
And in doing so, they will be able to add on to what has been an already impressive stretch of play this season away from home.
“I think it will be good,” Horford said. “[Tonight] it’s a Philly team that plays hard and we just want to keep building on [Friday night’s win over Sacramento] and just try to be better.”


Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

Al Horford makes his mark on Celtics win with defense

BOSTON – Al Horford had the kind of game that stands out because of the way he scored from so many different spots on the floor. 

But the true measure of his value to this team usually lies in what he brings to the floor defensively. 

Horford had one of his better games defensively in Boston’s 97-92 win over Sacramento on Friday, a game in which he had a season-high six blocked shots. 

For the season, the four-time All-Star is averaging a career-high 2.9 blocks per game.

He’ll be looking to do more of the same tonight against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

While Philly doesn’t have a player as dominant and difficult to contain as DeMarcus Cousins, their top post player Joel Embiid has been impressive even with a minutes restriction after having missed the last two seasons with injuries and recovery. 

Against Sacramento, he had a season-high six blocked shots which was one short of tying his career high which came against the Kings during the 2010-2011 season. 

Although Horford has ranked among the NBA’s top big men when it comes to blocking shots, the Celtics knew when they signed him to a four-year, $113 million contract they were adding a player who could help with rim protection. 

The biggest play in the Celtics’ win over Sacramento came in the closing seconds when Horford was credited with blocking DeMarcus Cousins’ shot. Horford was fouled and went to the line and made his free throws to secure the victory. 

“Playing at the power forward position it really frees me up defensively,” Horford said. “I feel like I can run around a little more and have more impact. When you are a center a lot of the times you get caught up with the bigs and it’s a little harder to get out to shooters and stuff. I’m just trying to be active, as active as I can.”

Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas who was among the Green Teamers to recruit Horford to sign with Boston, seeing him protect the rim the way he did on Friday was no surprise.

“We’ve always known when we recruited him we knew that was what he was good at,” Thomas said. “Even if he doesn’t block shots, he alters shots and changes them. He’s a hell of a player on both ends of the floor and he played a hell of a game (on Friday).”

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens likes what he sees out of Horford defensively, especially now that he plays for Boston and not Atlanta which eliminated the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs last season. 

“He was terrific in our series,” Stevens said. “Terrific. And so, playing him 10 times last year, and so, I mean, I think I’m an idiot but after 10 times I had at least an idea. You know, he’s all over the place and he covers a lot of ground, he calls out calls, and I think he’s a competitive guy. And that proof is in his winning track record.”