Paul Pierce should know better
Celtics captain put bravado before team with inexcusable ejection against Heat
The bad news for his team is he zoomed in warp speed past his signature 2008 season, when he outplayed both LeBron James and Kobe Bryant to win his first (and only) NBA championship and Finals MVP award.
Instead, the Paul Pierce time machine came to a screeching halt in the year 2005, when, as a petulant young star, he allowed his emotions to overtake him and was ejected from a playoff game against the Indiana Pacers. It was the lowlight in Pierce's career, particularly when he followed up his ejection by striding into the interview room with an outrageous bandage wrapped around his jaw, his way of tweaking the officials for the non-call that set him off.
Six years later, Pierce again was ejected in the postseason, this time for picking up two technicals within one minute of each other against the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Celtics' Eastern Conference semifinal series.
It was an appalling development for the team captain and supposed leader, who, instead of helping Boston scratch back from a deficit that was as high as 19 points, lost his composure and was forced to watch the remainder of the game from the locker room in disgrace.
Shouldn't Pierce be past this? All indications were he had matured into a reliable elder statesman, a Celtics winner who had taken his rightful place among the greats in this storied franchise.
Yet Bill Russell was never tossed from two playoff games. Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and Larry Bird never were, either.
Veterans are supposed to know better. When you are tagged with one technical, you cannot afford another -- under any circumstance.
To do anything else is putting bravado ahead of your team's best interests.
Pierce's banishment culminated a frustrating afternoon in which he had missed four of his first five shots, but even more damning coughed the ball up four times even as his coach stressed the need to limit turnovers.
Although Pierce found his range in the third quarter, he still sprinkled in some questionable shot selections and a couple of poor decisions, including knocking down a white-hot James Jones in the corner and awarding him a trio of free throws -- all of which Jones made.
"JJ had the best game of all of us tonight," LeBron James observed.
Pierce did not make himself available after the game, but he will undoubtedly argue the foul Jones committed at 7:59 of the fourth quarter was flagrant because the Heat sharpshooter grabbed Pierce's shoulder and neck.
That's fine, but the whistle had already been blown when Pierce foolishly moved toward Jones, then leaned into him so their foreheads made contact. Think of a head-butt minus the force -- more like a head "mash." Double technicals were called.
Fifty-nine seconds later, Pierce set a screen and Wade plowed into him with full force. Again, referee Ed Malloy instantly whistled a foul on Wade, but -- again -- Pierce, who had been jawing with Wade all afternoon, couldn't let it go. He spewed some obscenities in Wade's direction and double technicals were assessed.
That meant Pierce was tossed. When Malloy signaled Pierce was gone, an exultant Wade pumped his fist.
Asked what choice words precipitated Pierce's ejection, Wade responded, "It was a bunch of gibberish."
Teammate Ray Allen (the lone Big Three bright spot with 25 points) asserted that Pierce "didn't do anything over the top" in his altercation with Wade, but added, "It's us learning how to get out of those situations and back away from them."
Learning? Shouldn't a 13-year veteran already have this stuff figured out?
When he realized the ramifications of his actions, a distraught Pierce placed his hands on his head and bent over in disbelief. As the camera followed him to Boston's locker room, Pierce lifted his uniform and covered his head with it. Consider that progress. After his ejection in 2004, he removed his uniform top and spun it over his head as he walked down the tunnel.
Rivers had no choice but to defend his leading scorer by terming Miami's play "chippy" and asserting that both the Jones and Wade fouls should have been flagrant.
Yet even Rivers felt compelled to add, "Listen, the guy had one tech. You've got to know. C'mon."
"I told Paul you still don't react," Rivers said. "I thought as a whole we were the retaliating team. We were never the first-hit team."
Told of his coach's comments, a somber Kevin Garnett, who submitted underwhelming totals of six points and eight boards in 37 minutes, said softly, "I agree."
What happened here was simple: Miami beat Boston at its own game. Usually it's the boys in green who are accused of playing chippy, who rile opponents with their physical play, who wind up watching the other guy implode at the worst possible moment. In this game, the bullies got bullied.
Boston was in trouble long before Pierce's meltdown. Rajon Rondo made good on his promise to attack the Heat early and often, but in doing so he forced the issue and prevented the Celtics from getting into their offensive sets. He also picked up three early fouls and went to the bench for the rest of the half at the 11:17 mark of the second quarter.
At the time, it was a four-point game (20-16 Miami). Upon Rondo's departure, the Heat ran off nine in a row to extend their lead to 13. Through it all, Garnett was surprisingly passive.
Conversely, Wade was in attack mode from the jump, dominating play with a game-high 38 points and pushing the ball at every opportunity. Asked what his team would change for Game 2 in how it guarded Wade, a defiant Rivers responded, "Not a thing."
Miami got what it needed from its two leaders. Wade was otherworldly and James submitted a tidy 22 points, 6 rebounds and 5 assists of his own, prompting Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to declare, "He played one of the most intelligent games he's had all year long."
Not one person was saying the same thing about Paul Pierce.
Jackie MacMullan, who has spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.