Pierce focused on all-around game vs. Knicks

191544.jpg

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

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

Lowry, Sullinger and Blount interrupt interview with DeRozan

DeMar DeRozan didn't get a chance to answer one question in his postgame interview before being interrupted by Kyle Lowry, Jared Sullinger, and LeGarrette Blount.

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

Sullinger on Celtics: 'I watch from a distance, I support from a distance'

BOSTON – The trip to the TD Garden is one that Jared Sullinger has made many times but never like this. 

The former Celtic was back in town with his new team, the Toronto Raptors who signed him to a one-year, $5.6 million deal after the Celtics rescinded their qualifying offer to him and thus made him an unrestricted free agent. 

MORE:

“I had a feeling it was going to go that way once they signed big Al (Horford), that they were going to let me go,” Sullinger said prior to Friday’s game.  “We were prepared for it. It is what it is. I’m happy these guys are doing well.”

And he hopes to say the same for himself sometime in the future after undergoing surgery to have a screw inserted in the fifth metatarsal of his left foot – the same foot he had season-ending surgery on during the 2014-2015 season with the Celtics. 

There’s no specific timetable as to when he’ll be back on the floor, and Sullinger is cool with that plan. 

“I don’t know. They’re hiding the protocol from me so I won’t rush; we’ll see,” said Sullinger who is still in a walking boot. 

The 6-foot-9 forward played well in the preseason and solidified himself as the team’s starting power forward. 

Now that he’s out with another injury, he’ll have to once again try and prove himself either later this season when he returns, or this summer when he becomes a free agent again.

For now, Sullinger is happy to be back in town, seeing lots of familiar faces, friends and ex-teammates that he says he still keeps in close contact with. 

“Some of these guys I considered like brothers to me,” Sullinger said. “IT (Isaiah Thomas), Jae Crowder to name a few. So I watch from a distance, I support from a distance. They’re playing well.”

In addition to his former teammates, the lines of communication remained open between him and Celtics head coach Brad Stevens as well. 

Stevens said the two exchanged text messages right before he had foot surgery, and afterwards. 

“Obviously, everyone here wishes a speedy recovery and hopefully he gets back on the court soon,” Stevens said. 

Sullinger has been an effective player during his time in the NBA, with career averages of 11.1 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. 

But this will be the third time in his five NBA seasons that he will miss a significant amount of time on the court due to an injury or recovering from an injury. 

Stevens acknowledged that he feels for Sullinger who once again has to go through rehabilitation in order to get back on the floor.

“I like Jared a lot,” Stevens said. “He’s a heck of a player, he’s a really smart guy. Got a lot of respect for him and it stinks that he’s got to go through that but he’ll come back strong I’m sure.”