- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
- 0 Shares
After Paul Pierce struggled in his first game back after resting a sprained right thumb, Celtics coach Doc Rivers didn't seem concerned. He simply noted that Pierce would be better next game.
Rivers didn't lie. After a very un-Pierce-like 2-of-6 shooting performance for nine points in Tuesday's win over Detroit, Pierce rebounded Wednesday against Charlotte by erupting for 27 points on 9-of-13 shooting, his best offensive outing in more than a month.
"We need to use these games to get Paul going," admitted Rivers.
That's why no one seemed overly concerned after Friday's effort in which Pierce again labored, missing all but one of the nine shots he took over 32 minutes and finishing with seven points in a 96-86 triumph over the Philadelphia 76ers.
Rivers liked Pierce's aggressiveness. Pierce liked his shot selection. Both seem confident that those shots will drop when the postseason rolls around.
If the Celtics can weather an off night from Pierce and still emerge with a win, there's little reason for concern.
"It's not about me," said Pierce. "We're not a team centered around one player scoring all the points. Guys step up every day. ... I try to do other things, like defending [Andre] Iguodala, one of the better players, slow him down and try to keep him limited. I can help in that area."
As for his struggles? Pierce actually liked his offensive effort Friday.
"I loved every shot I took [Friday]," he said. "I look at a layup I missed, I look at a jump hook right in front of the rim. I look at wide-open 3s and a shot on the baseline. I loved every look I got. I know those shots are going to fall for me. I feel great out there."
And if Pierce is feeling great, the Celtics are feeling great. In a season dotted with fluke injuries for Pierce, Boston is a pedestrian 5-5 in the games he's missed, but 34-16 when the captain is in the starting lineup.
Pierce held a rare meeting with reporters before Wednesday's game and gave a bit of a state of the union, but his main point was that the Celtics couldn't wait any longer to flip the switch. He stressed that the regular season is a process of building toward the playoffs and, regardless of the reason for Boston's inconsistencies to that point, he wanted the team to shift to the next gear.
He responded by scoring 27 points in less than 27 minutes during a 104-80 thumping of Charlotte at the Garden. It was Pierce's largest output since dropping 35 points in a loss to the Hawks on Jan. 29. You'd have to go back more than a full month to Dec. 20 -- the game before the first of his fluke injuries began -- for his last effort of 27 points or more.
Before those maladies, Pierce was the team's MVP. He averaged just under 20 points per game over the first month-plus of the season, and helped Boston post a 22-5 mark to start the season.
But after a brilliant fourth-quarter effort while dropping 21 points in a 103-94 win over the Pacers on Dec. 22, Pierce's right knee flared up. He ultimately underwent two surgical procedures to drain fluid from the infected knee.
Pierce missed five games but returned to post his best month of the season, averaging 20.8 points per game in January, shooting a scorching 45.3 percent from beyond the 3-point arc and 48.5 percent from the floor overall.
Then on Feb. 3 against the Wizards, he got tangled with Caron Butler diving for a loose ball and suffered a left midfoot strain that sidelined him for two more games. In his third game back from that injury, he sprained his right thumb against the Los Angeles Lakers and labored through two more games before finally sitting out a week to heal.
Pierce hopes the injuries are behind him and says he feels as good as he's felt all season, but clearly he's still regaining a comfort level on the court. Despite his struggles, Rivers likes what he sees.
"You can see Paul starting to assert himself again," said Rivers. "We have to re-establish him as our go-to guy, and I think he's healthy enough to do that.
"The leadership is easy. We're trying to re-establish him as an offensive guy, get him back to 20-whatever points per game. We gotta make sure everyone gets back in a rhythm ... but we really need to try to re-establish him again."
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
Paul Pierce says the Celtics are built to win even when he has an off night.