- Chris Forsberg, Celtics reporter, ESPNBoston.com
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WALTHAM, Mass. -- If the frustrations at being limited in each of the first two games of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat were weighing on Paul Pierce, the Celtics' captain did a good job of masking it at Friday's practice.
Pressed on what sort of difference a healthy (and non-ejected) Pierce could make in crunch time of Saturday's pivotal Game 3, the 33-year-old swingman, already seemingly loose as he met with the media, smiled and slipped for a brief moment into Rickey Henderson-approved third-person mode.
"Paul Pierce being in the game in the fourth quarter is always going to help the Celtics," Pierce said.
Facing an 0-2 deficit and their season essentially hanging in the balance (no NBA team has ever rallied from an 0-3 hole), the Celtics desperately need that bold and confident Pierce. The one that produces some of his finer work when it matters most.(Do you need him to furnish that 2008 Finals MVP award for proof?)
The Celtics haven't gotten that Pierce yet. Here are his combined contributions in the final seven minutes of Games 1 and 2: two points.
After being tagged with a pair of technical fouls in a 58-second span, Pierce got the gate with seven minutes to go in Game 1. Hampered by a left Achilles strain that forced him to the locker room in the first half of Game 2, Pierce couldn't prevent LeBron James from fueling a 14-0 fourth-quarter run that allowed Miami to race away over the final 7:10, after Boston had pulled even.
It makes one think the three-day break leading up to Saturday's Game 3 must be driving Pierce insane. Instead, he suggested the rest has only helped him tend to the Achilles injury (he deemed himself "pretty good" on Friday) and he's anything but panicked about Boston's deficit.
In fact, he seems to have found inspiration in the moment.
"[Game 3 is] going to be definitely a big battle," Pierce said. "Everybody's playing for the same thing, and I like our chances, especially with our backs against the wall. We've been a team that's been able to respond over the course of the last few years when we've come across adversity, so this is what I'd call adversity, being down 2-0 in our home building. So I expect us to respond in a very positive manner."
And Pierce, leaning on the wall, a ball tucked under his right arm, established that very vibe while meeting with reporters on Friday. While Celtics coach Doc Rivers stressed that no single player is capable of single-handedly bringing a team such as Boston back, you get the sense Boston needs a vintage Pierce effort to win this series.
How it will manifest itself (a 41-point effort like the one to fend off James and the Cavaliers during Game 7 of the conference semifinals in 2008?) or when it will happen is uncertain. As Pierce knows too well.
"There's no script," he shrugged. "It [isn't] scripted. It's an unscripted reality show."
No need to remind the Celtics of that. Boston's postseason script had played out just as the coaching staff might have penned it on Broadway, then seemed to receive unapproved modifications when it got picked up on South Beach. Pierce's scoring average has dropped 6.3 points per game in the second round, and after being ultra-effective in defending Carmelo Anthony, he's struggled at times to limit James.
While he understands Pierce's value moving forward, Rivers doesn't want his captain putting any additional pressure on himself at either end of the floor.
"There's nothing he can do about [Games 1 and 2]," Rivers said. "He got ejected [in Game 1] and he didn't mean to get injured [in Game 2]. I don't think he's putting any undue pressure on himself. But we're not going to win individually, we're going to win as a team."
Rivers did admit he has to get Pierce more involved in the offense, while still establishing the post game, in which the Celtics remain hell-bent on taking advantage of Kevin Garnett.
"[Pierce is] our best scorer," Rivers said. "We have to go to him more and get him involved. Obviously, it was very tough to get him involved at the end of Game 1. I couldn't think of a way, but I was trying."
Pierce preached a focus on each game moving forward, which might help explain why he's been able to put Games 1 and 2 in the rearview mirror. No sense dwelling on what you can't control.
So as the series shifts back to Boston, Pierce seems to see reason for the Celtics to remain optimistic, even if history suggests they have a daunting task in front of them.
"I really don't see any panic," Pierce said. "It's just about us responding, taking care of home. We're not down 3-0, so no need to panic. Just got to take care of home. I mean, it sounds easier said than done, but that's what fates are, and you've got to do it one game at a time."
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.
Paul Pierce says adversity has always brought out the best in the Celtics.