- Wayne Drehs, ESPN Senior Writer
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CHICAGO -- Sound the trumpets. It took three games, a flight to Chicago and a lot of questions about how much he had left to give, but Paul Pierce finally showed up for the 2009 NBA playoffs Thursday night. And building on Pierce's 6-for-6 first-quarter start, his Boston Celtics cruised to a 107-86 win over the Chicago Bulls in Game 3 of their first-round series.
Oh sure, the captain was in Boston for Games 1 and 2, but he made just 16 of 40 shots while turning the ball over a total of eight times. There was talk that he was old. That his body was growing tired. And that he was lost in a postseason funk after hearing the news that Kevin Garnett would likely be out for the entire postseason.
You know what was wrong with Paul Pierce in Game 1 and 2? Something that could be improved easily with the extra day of preparation before Game 3: the Celtics' spacing.
"We have been working a day and a half on creating space for him so he could see double-teams when they came and he could be more aggressive," Boston coach Doc Rivers said after Thursday's victory. "He needed more space and we did that tonight."
The end result saw Pierce, the reigning NBA Finals MVP, revert to last year's postseason form by scoring 24 points in 28 minutes. The barrage started from the opening tip, with Pierce opening the game on a layup and then hitting first-quarter jump shots of 24, 15, 16, 18 and 13 feet to give Boston a 23-12 lead it would never relinquish. The Celtics are now up 2-1 in the series, with Game 4 in Chicago on Sunday (ABC, 1 p.m. ET).
Pierce missed only one shot in the first quarter, scoring 13 points in eight minutes. He likely would have scored more had he not picked up his second foul with four minutes left in the quarter.
"I thought he set the tone for us," Rivers said. "I thought he came out extremely aggressive and attacked early. He played the perfect decoy but was aggressive at the same time. I thought it was beautiful how he played."
The key for Pierce was attacking the Bulls with his midrange game, working his way around Chicago's guards but not getting so deep inside that he would have to deal with shot-blockers Joakim Noah and Tyrus Thomas.
But it wasn't just the Celtics' spacing that improved. So did the approach of their captain.
"In Game 1 and 2, I was hesitant, a bit indecisive," said Pierce. "But I'm getting comfortable with what they're trying to do with me as far as trapping and when I get in the lane.
"Tonight, I tried to go a little bit faster when I got the ball. In the first two games I was holding the ball a lot longer. Tonight I tried to attack."
The strategy worked. After seeming sluggish in the first two games, Pierce looked like the player who led the Celtics to the title last season, slicing through double-teams and breaking down the Bulls' defense to quickly eliminate any talk of the Celtics being old or overmatched in this series.
"He's pretty much the most confident guy in the league," Boston guard Rajon Rondo said. "No matter how he played the first two games, he's going to bring it regardless. You don't have to worry about Paul. We knew he was going to show up."
Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Wayne on Twitter @ ESPNWayneDrehs.
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