Paul Pierce played only 16 minutes in game two. Today you’ll surely be hearing a lot of talk about how this low number was the hidden blessing of the C’s victory. And I personally would agree with that analysis. It was a huge bonus to rest the Captain for 2 and a half quarters while the team dominated the Magic.
It has been well documented why The Captain has looked “tired” this year. Thanks to the team’s extensive injuries, Pierce has averaged 37.5 minutes a game, his most since the 2005-2006 regular season. Combine that with last year’s campaign where he played a cumulative 3864 minutes, the 2nd highest total of his career, you have the perfect recipe for a now aging veteran to show some visible signs of wear and tear. At this point it’s helpful to get the guy some extended rest at any point Doc can sneak it in. Last night was one of those lucky cases.
I have to acknowledge however a startling revelation I had after the conclusion of last night’s game, which I felt was confirmed after I looked at the box score. I thought Pierce’s extended absence from the floor was pivotal in getting this team to play their best offensive ball of the postseason. Now that may sound like a preposterous statement and Celtics Blog even joked already about the Ewing Theory rearing its head in Paul’s absence last night.
I am obviously not saying this team is better without Pierce. There is not a better pure offensive player on this team then the Captain. I do believe though that this team lately had become over reliant on Pierce a bit too much on the offensive end and it was hurting the rest of the team’s offensive play as a whole.
When you have one of the league’s best midrange shooters on your team, it’s easy to get lazy on offense. Get in a jam? Shot clock running out? Defer to Pierce. The guy has been a security blanket for this team, having averaged just under 19 shots a game during the team’s eight playoff games prior to game 2. That’s 4 shots above his regular season average of 14.6 attempts. Security blankets are nice but they are only useful when they work, and this one has had some holes in it lately, with Paul having shot only 41.9% from the field, once again four points below his regular season average of 45.7%.
Now don’t get me wrong, when Pierce has his jumper going he’s one of the toughest players to stop in the league. With a paltry shooting percentage like that though, it’s evident that he hasn’t been able to turn it on much so far during these playoffs. The extra four attempts a game likely weren’t helping matters either.
The even more disturbing part of Pierce’s playoff numbers for me though is his lack of assists. Only 1.9 a game thus far, which is down 2 assists from his season average and 3 down from his numbers in last year’s playoffs. When you consider how many extra minutes Pierce has played due to the overtimes against the Bulls, that number becomes even more alarming. For a guy that draws as much extra help and double teams that Pierce does, how can he have that low of an assist number?
I think the team as a whole and Paul are equally at fault here for his lack of sharing. The team was relying too much on the Captain to be their go to guy and Pierce was accepting that pressure which forced him to become somewhat of a black hole on offense. In no way am I saying Paul is a selfish player, I think he has proven to be anything but that over the years. As this team has been learning on the fly to play playoff ball without The Big Ticket though, the onus had been falling a bit too much on number 34 on the offensive end. A look at how things changed in Game 2, after the jump.
Let’s fast forward to last night though. The C’s had gotten off to an early 9-4 lead with Pierce hitting one of two attempted three pointers to start. Suddenly in less than a minute, Pierce picks up two quickie fouls and is forced to hit the pine with 8:44 remaining in the 1st quarter, being replaced by Marbury.
Now this could have been the point where like most recent games, the offense would have gone stagnant. A funny thing happened though. Instead of panicking on the offense end, everyone on the floor decided to step up and play some team basketball that Celtics fans hadn’t seen in months.
The Celtics were 4th in the league in assists during the regular season and although they have averaged 23.1 assists/game during the playoffs, that number is really quite pedestrian when you consider how many overtime games (4) they have played so far.
As shown by the regular season numbers, assists are a crucial part of what this team does best on offense and that is spread the love around to create easy looks for one another. With Ray not shooting well from outside, Rondo unable hit a jumper to save his life, and Perk going up against the best defender in the league it was unclear where this team would turn for offense in game 2 with Pierce out of the fold. Thankfully, the C’s found an effective answer in getting back to basics with team basketball.
Last night, the team had 34 assists on 41 field goal makes, which was the team’s 2nd highest total of the season. Obviously more than half of those stemmed from Rondo’s relentless penetration (18 assists) but the unselfish aggressiveness was clearly contagious for the rest of the squad. With Pierce out of game, and game 2 being a must win, this team was forced to return to its roots and pass the ball to ensure they had enough firepower for the win. Eddie House being on fire helped obviously, but the team’s lead was already in double digits in the 2nd quarter long before he started to make it rain.
Now does Pierce returning to his regular minutes mean these assists will fall to the wayside? I say no. The team needed a wakeup call to show how explosive they could be offensively even without Pierce and it’s one that Doc will likely not let them forget. The C’s have played this unselfishly many a time with Pierce in the lineup. It is my hope that last night’s effort will make the Green a little less reliant on Paul when he’s out there and in turn allow The Captain to take a cue from his teammates and look to drive and dish a little more when the opportunity presents itself.
The Truth has time and time again shown he’s willing to put team first. The team last night laid out a perfect blueprint of how to beat Orlando’s defense with penetration, spacing and ball movement. Friday Night, I look for the Captain to follow the plans to a T.