Paul Pierce’s maturation from a young gunslinger to a savvy veteran bodes well for the title aspirations of the Boston Celtics.
While KG’s intensity fuels the locamotive that the Boston Celtics have become, it’s the unselfishness of Paul Pierce that allows the team to succeed, or conversely, his superman complex that will derail the Celtic train.
Case in point: at the end of Wednesday night’s home win against the Rockets, it wasn’t Pierce’s ability to make the late shot that won the game, it was instead his ability to recognize Kevin Garnett as the Celtic with the best chance to make the big shot.
With little more than a minute remainging on the clock, Pierce caught the ball on the baseline with a chance to take a slightly contested three, one he would have hoisted without a second thought in years past. He instead up-faked and passed the ball to an open KG at the top of the key, the same spot Garnett had lit up the Rockets from all night, and The Big Ticket delivered two points. Pierce would prove that his wise play was not a fluke on the next Boston possession as well.
The quintessential display of Pierce’s growing awareness ocurred when he received a pass right in front of mid-court from Ray Allen, who had just managed to sneak in for a key offensive rebound with under a minute keftand up only three points. When Pierce held the ball and barely moved for a few seconds, images of former superman efforts flashed through my mind, and I shuttered. I fully expected The Truth to try to do it on his own, either hoisting an ill-advised fall-away or turning the ball over as every memeber of the Rockets swarmed him on the drive.
Yet, Pierce did not abide, and gave me even more hope for raising the 17th World Championship banner in the storied history of the Boston Celtics next autumn.
Taking his man into the screen set at the three point line he perfectly and purposely drew both defenders involved, then dished behind the back to a waiting Kevin Garnett, who knocked down the game-breaking shot with only 22.2 seconds available for the Rockets to work with.
It appears our part-time superman, part-time emotional roller coaster has grown up, and is ready to embrace a team worthy of his heroic performances, even if the style of his efforts may have changed. This steady maturity, something any 30-year-old should hope to achieve, helped Mr. Truth earn the NBA’s Player of the Week award Tuesday.
Scot (that’s with only one ‘t’) Pollard was fantastic tonight, supplying energy and using all of his fouls to keep Yao Ming quiet. Kendrick Perkins also did a nice job of limiting the Eastern Giant to a sufficient, but not overly impressive output (19 points on 7 of 20 shooting, 13 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal, and 4 turnovers).
Rajon Rondo’s jumper has betrayed him in the past week–it will be interesting to see how long it takes him to get it back. If he continues to struggle with his jump shot for an extended period of time, will he keep taking the necessary open shots or will his unwillingness to shoot cramp the great spacing and ball movement that have been staples of the Celtics so far this season? It will be very interesting to see.
While Ray Allen has clearly taken a back seat to the other two thirds of the Boston Three Party, he still remains vital to the team’s success. His calm demeanor helps balance out Garnett’s vicious intensity and Paul Pierce’s emotional play, and Allen’s ability to hit shots from anywhere in the clutch gives the team an indefensible trifecta of creators at the end of the game.
Doc Rivers alternated between coaching well and completely dropping the ball against Houston and his surprisingly inept counterpart, Rick Adelman (who plays his third and fourth best players, Bonzi Wells and Luis Scola, very limited minutes off the bench while the starters at their positions struggle). It’d be nice to see Doc a little more aware with his substitutions–fortunately KG found the necessary strength and energy to both score big buckets and guard the gargantuan Yao, but had Doc done a little more mental lifting, perhaps Kendrick Perkins or Scot Pollard would have been available to guard the big man at the end of the game. There’s no reason “Big Baby” Davis couldn’t have played more than 2 minutes on the evening, especially when Yao went to the bench for stretches. Doc’s inactivity almost cost the Celtics a game in which they outpaced Houston by their usual 20 points before coughing up the lead with lackidasical play and uninspiring coaching against a weakened, Tracy McGrady-less Rockets team.