Commentary

Pierce fouls up Sixers

Court savvy -- to go with great all-around play -- saves Celtics

Updated: November 26, 2009, 12:18 PM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- A quick glance at the box score following the Celtics' 113-110 triumph over the 76ers on Wednesday night at TD Garden reflects a quality game for Paul Pierce.

Boston's captain logged 43 minutes, 27 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds. But it's what the box score can't show that made it a great game.

Pierce utilized his court smarts on the defensive end twice in the final 34 seconds, making a pair of savvy plays -- the type only veterans seem to make -- to ensure Boston emerged with a gritty victory.

Both plays involved fouls -- first taking, then giving. Coach Doc Rivers called the former -- a charge Pierce drew from Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala with 34 seconds to go -- the play of the game, but it's the latter that reflects why the Celtics often remain a step ahead of the competition.

With the 76ers trailing by three and little more than a second to play, Jason Kapono received an inbounds pass. Before he could even think about launching the potential tying shot, Pierce purposely fouled him with Philadelphia in the bonus.

You can't overcome a three-point deficit with two free throws. And when Kapono missed on his first attempt at the stripe, he had no choice but to intentionally miss the second and hope for a miracle.

Instead, the ball landed in Pierce's hands and he cradled it close to his body as time expired.

"That's something we talk about, something we work on," said Pierce. "We were in that situation last year against the Bulls and we gave Ben Gordon the 3 when we should have fouled. Early this year in training camp and practice, we've talked about it. With under 10 seconds and up by 3, that's our strategy: to foul. Play the free throw game and get the ball to our best free throw shooters."

The Celtics actually ran the play earlier, with Rajon Rondo fouling Thaddeus Young. After Young converted the freebies, the Celtics subbed Eddie House in for Kendrick Perkins -- putting their best free throw shooters on the court -- and House made his free throws to push the lead back to three, setting up the final seconds.

Despite playing hefty minutes -- Rivers said he'll try to make it up to Pierce with a 25-minute game later this year, but don't hold your breath -- and shouldering the offensive load while bringing his team back from a six-point deficit to start the final frame, Pierce saved his biggest plays for the final moments.

Rivers couldn't say enough about the charge Pierce drew on Iguodala with the Celtics clinging to a 107-105 advantage.

"The best play [Pierce] made was a charge," said Rivers. "He took a charge. That's what I didn't think we did. We talked about it at halftime, guys stepping up. They're driving to the basket with their heads down. If anybody was willing to just step up and take the [body], we could get a couple of charges in the game."

Added Pierce: "Well, you know it's what we talk about. If the charge is there, Coach wants us to step up and take the charge. That's pretty much the only thing I could've done in that situation. It was like Iguodala coming at you full speed; he's so athletic that, once he gets in the air, I'm not going to block his shot. So I just tried to stand there and take the charge."

At the other end of the floor, Pierce ran a pick-and-roll with Garnett, who then dished to Rondo cutting backdoor on the baseline. But Rondo overran the basket with defenders near the paint, then wheeled around and drilled a 17-foot baseline jumper as the shot clock expired to give the Green a four-point cushion.

Pierce dubbed it the "shot of the game," but the accolades were reserved for the captain on this night.

"Tonight was all P. Pierce," said Garnett. "He's the Truth, man. He took charges. When we needed a bucket, he got buckets. He got me easy shots. He got E-House easy shots. They tried to put a press on us, he threw right over the top; he was directing. When your captain is going like that and your team leader's going like that, in the flow -- he gave everybody insurance. You just have to follow and listen.

"At the end of the day, it was all Truth and his impact on the game."

Rivers echoed Garnett's sentiments, but took it one step further, dubbing Pierce the team's savior and most valuable player through 15 games.

"He's been MVP to me," said Rivers. "Not only just with his play, but all over. He's doing everything you ask him to do. He's guarding guys, he's rebounding, he's making big shots, he's taking charges. I mean, I don't know what else? He can cook tomorrow's Thanksgiving dinner for someone and then he'll be doing it all. He's been terrific."

Chris Forsberg is a roving reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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