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Without Pierce, C’s Get Back to Basics

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.

  • Jason

    The Celts AREN'T better without Pierce. They ARE CLEARLY BETTER without Pierce isolations. Why Doc allows this stills infuriates me. When Rondo breaks down the defense and/or when the ball (and players) is/are moving around, the defense is in flux and better things happen. When the ball get stuck in any player's hand (not just PP's, though he is the main culprit), it allows the defense to stays solidified, rested and best able to rotate, help, etc. It's amazingly obvious and the difference in offensive efficiency is as stark. Pierce is a special player, but again, it's infuriating to see a flowing, successful offense stall just so he can have the ball in his hands. It happens WAY too much, especially in end of game situations.

    Tangentially, Rondo should almost NEVER NOT be at full speed. Even when he's reckless in the lane, often good things happen (fouls, offensive rebounds if he misses badly, which he's prone to do sometimes). Speed is his #1 weapon and while I know he can't use it 100% of the time, when he doesn't, he's giving the opposition a pass. Rondo needs to figure out how to be as close to full speed as much of the time as possible. Nash, no matter what has happened (miss, made basket, up a lot, down a lot, close game) always gets the ball up the court full speed and it usually leads to good things. This isn't even something to "learn." He just needs to do it. How Doc allows him to have multiple possessions in a row where he's slow, tentative, etc. again is beyond me.

  • Couldn't agree with you more Jason about Rondo. The guy should be dialed in at the 4th gear all game long. Even last night when he came up short on almost every open floater he took, the fact he was getting into the lane and create opportunities and movement kept this team in control all game long. I just hope he keeps up this sense of urgency in Orlando with Pierce returning to action.

  • As the site's resident Paul Pierce backer, I am personally offended by this post, despite its balanced nature and many caveats. I am blinded by rage.

  • jyrecelts

    Easy ZL, BR makes a great point – and he prefaced it with a disclaimer. Paul HAS become the over-relied on guy, and the lack of assists bears out the perspective he posits. I think it would be a great adjustment on paul's part, but only if the team is on the same page to pass more, looking for guys to cut to the hoop.

  • Yo

    The celtics played there best game of the postseason and best game in forever last night with paul pierce on the bench. so unfortunately im gonna have to agree…hes been borderline awful in this postseason and has actually hurt us with his terrible decison making…hes trying to do to much, and when it turns into the paul pierce show, everyones just standing around

  • I have to agree here. PP is my favorite player but he's at his best when he's filling out the stat sheet, getting others involved. That also helps him get set before an open look.

    I think the absence of Powe has affected Pierce. PP always seemed to find a way to get in the lane, and then magically wrap a pass around the defender coming over on help D, placing the ball into Powe's hands for an easy two. This made me believe that PP was slightly partial to dishing it to Leon (for whatever reason). Side note: I miss Powe already. But I'll never forget watching him go coast-to-coast and slamming it down on the Lakers in the Finals last year.

    Another thing that I have noticed in the playoffs is that when Ray & PP shoot a 3, often times their shot has been flat (little arc). When their shot has more arc on the ball, there's a better chance of the shot going down. Ex: Pierce's contested 3 at the end of Game 1 vs ORL (that would have tied the game with 6.1 seconds left "IF" Ray's 3 moments before had not rattled out). I believe House pointed this out to Ray during a game in the regular season, only to have Ray drain the next few open looks from deep.

    p.s. Any chance you can increase the size of the comment text box? Nobody likes scroll bars.

  • Yo

    Pierces problems have to do with not having Leon Powe? wow, theres a powe guy for ya….. no not quite, Id say KG ranks as a bigger reason then powe……and yes Powe was great in the finals in that one game….when luke walton was guarding him

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  • I think it's a given KG's absence affects the entire team more than any other player that is out right now. But thanks for the obvious.

    My point was Powe's absence is affecting Pierce more than it is affecting other players (aside from other bigs who would be getting more rest if Leon was able to play). I don't have the stats, but I would be interested in learning which teammate's Pierce combines with to get more of his assists. I bet Leon would be higher on that list than you'd expect.

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