Commentary

Did Paul Pierce learn his lesson?

Celtics captain sounds contrite, but his actions in Game 2 will speak volumes

Updated: May 2, 2011, 11:48 PM ET
By Jackie MacMullan | ESPNBoston.com

MIAMI -- Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce had some house cleaning to do Monday. Before he could resume preparing for the Miami Heat in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, he needed to put his transgressions from Game 1 behind him and wash clean a new stain on the reputation he has worked tirelessly to enhance as his career enters its final stages.

Pierce was ejected Sunday after picking up a pair of technicals 59 seconds apart. He was tagged with the first for confronting Miami's James Jones and making bodily contact with him in the aftermath of a hard foul. Less than a minute later, referee Ed Malloy tossed Pierce for a "verbal taunt" directed at Miami guard Dwyane Wade, who rammed into Pierce after the Celtics forward set a screen.

[+] EnlargePaul Pierce
Steve Mitchell/US PresswirePaul Pierce admitted Monday that he "probably overreacted" in getting ejected from Game 1.

It was a stunning development for a self-described leader who so often sets the tone for his team. Pierce, clearly distraught, left the arena without speaking to anyone. On Monday, he willingly stepped into a throng of media and did what he should have done Sunday afternoon: He bit his lip until it bled.

In his first public comments since Malloy ruined his evening, Pierce acknowledged he should have kept his composure and that his behavior was "selfish."

"I probably overreacted," Pierce conceded. "I thought I was fouled excessively on both plays, actually. It probably should have been a flagrant on both players but it's up to me to keep my composure."

Boston's leading scorer was clearly still seething over why and how he was ejected from Sunday's game. His obscenity-laced challenge to Wade, in his mind, wasn't enough to warrant the technical. He wasn't alone in that opinion. Coaches, commentators, players and media members have weighed in with similar assertions. Yet Pierce wisely stopped short of indicting Malloy.

"You know, sometimes a player gets caught up in the hype of the game, and sometimes the ref does too," Pierce said. "He reacted the way he thought, and that's what it was."

Now that's more like it. Whether Pierce sincerely subscribes to those comments or not, it is incumbent upon him to show restraint -- something he failed to do in the heat of Game 1. Regardless of whether Malloy overreacted, Pierce never should have put himself in a position where Malloy could affect his day so dramatically.

Pierce got the message -- from his front office, his coaching staff and his teammates. The memo they delivered was to put the incident behind him, and he did so Monday by being contrite and self-examining.

Throughout Pierce's career, the emotional component of his game has been both his biggest strength and his biggest weakness. His demonstrative approach often has sparked his team to victory, but also has occasionally led it astray.

Pierce is all about positive self-talk. If he misses four of five shots, as he did in the first half Sunday, it will not deter him from continuing to hoist it up if he's open. In fact, it was Pierce who ignited a 12-0 run early in the third quarter that whittled a 19-point deficit down to 7.

It also was Pierce who drilled a 3-pointer with 0.1 seconds on the clock in the third quarter.

But then the over-amped Pierce kicked in. He fired up an ill-advised trey to start the fourth quarter, committed a silly foul on Jones with 9:46 to go that awarded the Heat's sniper three free throws, then followed that up less than two minutes later with the back-to-back implosions that soon were the talk of the NBA.

"How can you tell a guy not to be emotional?" teammate Glen Davis asked. "Most of the time that emotion is good because it shows he cares."

Pierce was peeved on two fronts, first because of the belief his punishment was unjust, and second because of the negative public backlash his actions created.

He confessed he was awaiting a verdict from the league on whether further action would be taken against him for his contact with Jones, which could be best described as a passive version of a head-butt.

"It's always a concern when things happen," he said. "Right now it's out of my control. They're going to view it the way they view it and they're going to come to a decision. I'm definitely worried because if it's a situation where it affects my team, it's very selfish.

"It was selfish of me [Sunday] night but it will hurt even more if the league decides to suspend me, if that's what they saw."

A league spokesman confirmed Monday there will be no further action taken against Pierce.

Suffice to say, he's suffered enough.

One thing was abundantly clear: The bad karma from Game 1 will not stop Pierce from challenging the Heat or coming to work for Game 2 with the same emotion he brought to the opener.

"I don't need no motivation," he insisted. "I don't need that to fire me up. I'm going to come out every game the same, regardless of what happens. I'm going to be ready to play for the simple fact that we lost."

Doc Rivers correctly determined that Pierce's night of infamy will have no bearing on Game 2. He will start out with the same number of technical fouls as everyone else -- zero. It's up to the captain to keep that number at a goose egg.

Truthfully, the Celtics have more pressing issues to correct than Pierce's temper. They need to limit Miami's transition baskets, establish ball movement and exploit Kevin Garnett's matchup in the post against Chris Bosh. They need to cut down on their turnovers and ramp up their defensive pressure. They need to put a hand in Jones' face. They need Rajon Rondo to calm himself and run the offense.

"I thought we were a pretty easy team to guard," Rivers said.

Pierce insisted his long, miserable night did not keep him from sleeping because, he reasoned, he saw things the Celtics could control in Game 2.

Presumably, their emotions are at the top of the list.

Jackie MacMullan, who has spent nearly 20 years as a beat writer and columnist in Boston, is a columnist for ESPNBoston.com.

Jackie MacMullan

ESPNBoston.com columnist

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