Commentary

Pierce not fazed by slump

Celtic had similar struggle in 2008 and emerged as Finals MVP

Updated: June 10, 2010, 11:41 AM ET
By Chris Forsberg | ESPNBoston.com

"Just keep shooting the ball. I thought I had some pretty good looks in Game 3. Really not discouraged at my opportunities. Really didn't see a lot of double-teaming. A lot of those looks I got were looks I can make. So just stay positive, and if I get those same looks in Game 4, I'm confident that they'll go in." -- Paul Pierce

BOSTON -- Those sound like words Paul Pierce might have uttered Tuesday night, right? Nope, those were spoken about two years ago on June 10, 2008, after Pierce labored through a 2-of-14 shooting performance and scored a mere six points in a Game 3 loss to the Lakers in that year's NBA Finals.

It was the only stinker Pierce posted during a series in which he earned Finals MVP. True to his word, he rebounded to average 25 points over the final three games of the 2008 series.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce & Ron Artest
Don Emmert/AFP/Getty ImagesWhether or not Paul Pierce's offensive struggles are attributable to Ron Artest (Pierce says not), the Celtics need their captain to snap out of it.

Two years later, the Celtics are waiting for Pierce to play at that MVP-caliber level and lead his team to another banner against the squad he grew up rooting for. But right now, he might be even more woeful than he was at that moment following Game 3 in 2008.

Pierce labored through 2-of-11 shooting for 10 points in Game 2 on Sunday but easily brushed off his personal difficulties given the fact that Boston emerged with a crucial road win.

After missing seven of his first eight attempts in Game 3, Pierce padded his stats late but couldn't mask another subpar outing in which he scored 15 points on 5-of-12 shooting. (He made his final four field goals, a pair of which came in the waning moments after L.A. essentially had locked up the win.)

To compensate for his disappointing offensive output, Pierce suggests he's doing all the little things to help his team win.

"Not really shooting the ball particularly well," Pierce said Wednesday when asked to assess his Finals performance thus far. "I think I'm doing a pretty good job defensively, trying to do other things to help this ballclub win.

"Obviously, we all can play better. When you lose two games and you don't shoot the ball well, you don't do some of these other things well, you question if you can do more. Obviously I can probably do a little more to help this ballclub. But it's going to be a team thing. It's not about one individual. It's a combination of us that has to step up for this team to win."

Pierce can blame his poor shooting performance, at least in part, on foul trouble. He picked up two fouls in less than 10 minutes in the first quarter Tuesday, then drew a costly fifth foul with 11:21 to go in the fourth.

But Pierce refuses to use Ron Artest's defense as any sort of crutch, which led to this exchange with reporters Wednesday:

Q: What kind of problems has Ron [Artest] presented for you defensively? Is it him just being physical or has he affected you this series in your production?

Pierce: I don't really see anything he's doing special that any other teams haven't done throughout the course of the playoffs. That's it.

Q: So you're basically saying you're missing shots that you normally should make?

Pierce: You watched the game. What do you think he's doing?

Q: Just his physical presence; historically, he's given you problems in the past. Just looking at the stats. Is it just coincidence?

Pierce: I think so.

Whether Pierce is simply trying to ruffle Artest's feathers or truly believes he's just not shooting the ball well, the Celtics need more from him in order to rally from their 2-1 hole.

A simple comparison from 2008 to 2010 shows what Boston is missing. Pierce averaged 21.8 points per game that series, connected on 43.2 percent of shots and generated 6.3 assists per game. This season, Pierce is averaging 16.3 points per game, while shooting 36.1 percent and making 3.3 assists per game.

Kevin Garnett cautioned against getting on Pierce too much for his offensive struggles, noting how much one's game can be affected by foul trouble.

"You know, it's crazy because I've been there, Game 2, with the fouls, and it really takes a toll on you from a momentum and a rhythm standpoint," Garnett said.

"I tried to do something different versus being offensive throughout, moving the ball, setting solid screens, rebounding, and I think when you don't have that momentum or you don't have that flow, then you have to look to do other things.

"You know, we need Paul. We need Paul to be Paul Pierce. 'The Truth.' But it has to be something that is a flow and within everybody's flow of the game.

"He's right; he did have a great Finals, and I thought in that whole run he had a great momentum, not a lot of times he was in foul trouble and all that. The game has a feel, and you have to go with that feel."

During a morning film session before Wednesday's practice, coach Doc Rivers highlighted Pierce's lack of aggression after picking up the fifth foul. It was a reminder that both coach and player have to work harder to avoid situations in which fouls can alter how a player performs.

"We watched film today," Rivers said, "and I showed Paul -- it's funny, I said, 'Paul, that's a driving lane. You've got to get to the basket.' His response was, 'I was worried about getting another foul.' It's tough to play that way. So we just have to get better at staying out of foul trouble somehow."

Then Rivers held a similar exchange with reporters, batting away any suggestion that Artest is Pierce's chief reason for struggling:

Q: How much is Ron affecting [Pierce]?

Rivers: I don't think he is.

Q: Really?

Rivers: I don't. I thought Paul was getting good shots; I think he's getting good shots. He's not making some of them. Maybe Ron has something to do with that. But if we get Paul in rhythm and get him on his spots, I feel very confident that Paul will have big games for the rest of the series.

Q: You see him doing -- it's almost like a girl checking her hair in the mirror, is his shot just kind of gone?

Rivers: Just not going in. It happens. Just watch the film. Those shots are wide open. For Paul, he's not going to keep missing those. And so you look at his first three shots last night, if you ask Paul what shots, he'll take those three shots that didn't go in. Then he gets in foul trouble and all of that. No, I liked Paul's shots. We need him to make them; there's no doubt about that. But I really like his shots, and I think he has the ability to get shots.

Pierce proved in 2008 that sometimes these things are temporary. But Boston enjoyed the luxury of a 2-1 advantage that year. Boston enters Game 4 staring at a 2-1 deficit.

Pierce said he'll find a way to help Boston win games, even if he never finds his shooting rhythm.

"As far as helping my team win, that's what I'm trying to do every night," Pierce said. "I'm trying to do as much as I can. I'm trying to do as much as possible, as much responsibility as the team gives me to help this team win.

"I can do more if they need me to do more. Obviously, I'm going to probably have to do more if we're going to win. There's times I have to rise to the challenge. We have a 1-2 hole, I have to play better, and I have to accept the challenge."

Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.

Chris Forsberg

Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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