Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

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Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

By A. Sherrod Blakely
CSNNE.com

WALTHAM The NBA announced on Monday that Orlando Magic center Dwight Howard was once again the NBA's Defensive Player of the Year award winner.

There were two Boston Celtics who finished among the top-five vote-getters for the award.

Paul Pierce wasn't one of them. (They were Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.)

But if the Celtics are to get past the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, chances are Pierce's defense on Carmelo Anthony will be a major factor.

Pierce, a prolific scorer in his own right, is essentially defending a bigger, stronger, younger version of himself in Anthony.

Boston escaped Game 1 with an 87-85 win, with some of the credit going to Pierce and the way he limited Anthony to 15 points -- about 10 points below his season average -- on 5-for-18 shooting from the field.

"A great player like Carmelo, you can't count on him shooting the ball the way he did Sunday night," said Pierce, who added, "We hope that he shoots like that again."

If Anthony does, chances are Pierce's defense will have something to do with it.

There's no doubt that Pierce's defense has picked up in recent years, by no means should it be confused with Bruce Bowen or any other highly regarded defensive player known for locking down players.

For Pierce, he uses his size, deceptively quick lateral movements and just plain ol' veteran savvy, to get the job done defensively.

But in this series, as important as it is to limit Anthony's effectiveness, the Celtics will need more than defensive stops from Pierce.

"For me, I have to be great on both sides of the ball," Pierce said. "That's the way I'm looking at this series. I have to be the scorer that the Celtics need me to be, and I have to be a defender. Because I'm guarding one of the premier players in the game. It's a lot of responsibility, but it's a responsibility I've been used to."

Rivers recalls how so much of the burden of carrying the team, fell on Pierce's shoulders during his early years.

"Early on, he had to do more than just score and defend," Rivers said. "He had to be the passer, he had to be the rebounder. My first two, three years with Paul, that was difficult. It is hard being the only guy. Everybody's double teaming you, but now he has other guys so that allows him to rest more."

Rivers sees Pierce's improved play defensively as another sign of his growth into an elite, all-around NBA superstar.

"You have to do them both," Rivers said. "It's part of basketball. It's offense and defense. It's not just one."

In Boston's Game 1 win, Pierce showed the ability to achieve success on both fronts in the game's closing moments.

Trailing 85-84 with about a minute to play, Pierce's defense on Anthony led to Anthony being whistled for an offensive foul with less than a minute to play.

Boston's Ray Allen nailed the game-winning shot with less than 12 seconds to play.

The pass to Allen for the game-winning shot came from Pierce.

"Ray's the hero with the shot; to me Paul's the hero with the pass," Rivers said moments after Sunday's Game 1 victory. "That's a great example of not playing hero basketball; just trusting what we drew up."

Pierce embraces the balancing act he has to perform for one reason -- he doesn't have a choice if the Celtics are going to have the kind of postseason they collectively envision.

"I have to be just as aggressive offensively, and I have to be even more aggressive defensively," Pierce said. "It's not going to be easy. Doc's always saying, 'winning isn't easy.' So that's what it is."

A. Sherrod Blakely can be reached at sblakely@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Sherrod on Twitter at http:twitter.comsherrodbcsn

Anthony: Despite trade whispers, 'I'm committed' to staying with Knicks

Anthony: Despite trade whispers, 'I'm committed' to staying with Knicks

BOSTON -- When most of Carmelo Anthony’s elite NBA brethren were looking for max-money deals with the flexibility to bounce to another team from one year to the next, the perennial All-Star signed a five-year, $124 million deal in 2014, which was one of the many ways he showed that he’s all-in on being a New York Knick. 
 
And as the Knicks continue to drop one game after another, 'Melo once again finds himself having to answer questions as to whether he wants to be in New York for the long haul. 
 
He acknowledged prior to tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics that he recently met with Phil Jackson, New York’s president of basketball operations. He declined to talk specifics about the meeting, but he was asked whether he felt a need to reiterate his commitment to a Knicks team that finds itself -- for now at least -- on the outside of the playoff picture. 
 
”I think it was just a . . . yeah, I mean, I'm committed,” he said after the team’s shootaround this morning prior to tonight's Celtics-Knicks game. “I don't have to prove that to anybody. I don't think I have to prove that to anybody. I don’t think I have to keep saying that. I don't think I have to keep talking about that. I know for a fact people know that; people see that. And right now my focus is on playing ball and staying with these guys. Because a lot of these guys have never dealt with all of this stuff before. Especially being in a market like New York and dealing with the articles and everybody has a different opinion on different situations. So a lot of these guys have never dealt with that. So for me it's just, it's all about being there. Moreso than ever right now during this time for them.”
  
Since he arrived via (forced) traded from Denver, 'Melo has seen his share of ups and downs in New York -- probably more downs in terms of the team’s success.
 
But even with that familiarity, Anthony acknowledged that this season’s problems do have a different feel than previous ones. 
 
“I've had this a couple times over the past couple seasons so I kinda know what this feeling is like,” Anthony said. “I think now it's a little bit different being the fact that the guys we have on this team, the talent level that's on this team, and for us to still kinda be losing these games, close games, non-close games . . . that's a different feeling.”
 
New York traded for Derrick Rose, a former league MVP, and signed Joakim Noah via free agency. 
 
With those former Bulls, coupled with Anthony and an emerging star in Kristaps Porzingis, the Knicks were expected to provide a nucleus for success that would position them to be a playoff contender. The season is still young, but they've have been one of the bigger disappointments in the NBA this season. 
 
After a 16-13 start, their slide began with a Christmas Day loss to Boston that put them in a tailspin that they’re still trying to play their way out of. They come into tonight’s game having lost 11 of their last 13 games and sit six games below .500 at 18-24.
 
And as far as Anthony's future with the Knicks, if he leaves it will be his decision. 
 
But he's maintained -- throughout the peaks and valleys in his time with the Knicks -- that he has no desire to play for any other franchise, which is why the no-trade he has is so important. 
 
Simply put, he ain’t leaving New York unless he wants to. 
 
“I think as players you always want to protect yourself,” Anthony said. “I didn't think it would get to this point, but I think as a player if you can get that (no-trade clause), you have a right to protect yourself and take care of yourself when it comes to that. It's very hard to get . . . So, I have it and that's that.”

Celtics are living by the 3-pointer at a historic level

Celtics are living by the 3-pointer at a historic level

BOSTON – It has been well-established that the Celtics are a three-point shooting, bombs away kind of team and nothing seems like it’ll deter them from continuing along that path.
 
But as we prepare for the second half of the season, beginning tonight against the New York Knicks, we come to realize Boston’s launching of 3-pointers isn’t just unusually high.
 
This group of Celtics rank among the league's all-time leaders in 3-point attempts by the halfway mark of the season.

And when you look at the company they’re keeping when it comes to 3-point shooting, it speaks to how important it has become in this NBA to have as many long-range shooting threats on the floor as possible if you're trying to win at a high level.
 
Boston’s 494 3-point attempts thus far this season ranks fourth all-time by the halfway point of a season. But this season, that’s just good enough to be third behind Houston and Golden State with 617 and 505 three-point attempts, respectively.
 
The other team in the top four all-time is last season's Golden State squad, which took 519 three-pointers by the midway point of the season.
 
And all those 3’s by the Celtics have included an NBA-record six straight games in which they made at least 15 3-pointers.
 
That has allowed the Celtics to score at least 100 points in 15 consecutive games, the franchise’s longest such streak since they reached the 100-point plateau in 19 straight games in 1991.
 
Of course Isaiah Thomas’ 3-point shooting stands out, particularly when you see how dominant he has been this season in the fourth quarter with a league-best 10.1 points per game.
 
But his offense, while potent, is aided heavily by the shot-making snipers coach Brad Stevens surrounds him with on a nightly basis.
 
That’s why you didn’t see Stevens or president of basketball operations Danny Ainge freak out earlier this season when the Celtics were struggling.
 
Kelly Olynyk, who shot better than 40 percent on 3’s a year ago, was still on the mend after offseason shoulder surgery.
 
Jae Crowder, whose 3-point shooting has steadily improved throughout his career, had some minor injuries that set him back and maybe more important, didn’t allow him to get into the kind of shooting rhythm we see now which has allowed him to shoot a team-best 42.6 percent on 3’s.
 
Al Horford, Thomas, Amir Johnson … they all missed some time due to injuries this season, which has impacted the team’s chemistry and timing.
 
But the past couple of weeks have seen the Celtics healthier than they’ve been most of this season, and it has allowed them to play with the kind of space they want which has allowed Thomas and his cohorts to take lots of lightly contested to open 3’s most of this season.
 
“We’ve got pretty good shooters on this team where you’ve got to pick your poison,” Thomas said. “We’re shooting at a high level, and I got to say, you just have to pick your poison who you want to stop and my job is just to make the right play each and every time down.”