Quietly, after struggling mightily for the first two games of this series with his knee injury, Paul Pierce has put together an impressive little stretch for the last four games against Philadelphia. Don’t take my word for it, look at the numbers:
22 ppg, 8rpg, 2.7 apg, and perhaps most importantly 40 free throw attempts over that four game stretch.
Pierce is making the most of his visits to the charity stripe, having hit his last 26 free throws and is shooting 94 percent from the line for the series, and 91 percent from the line at the postseason, dethroning Ray Allen as the team’s best free throw shooter. Perhaps, most importantly though, this is a sign Pierce is feeling better and learning how to play with his MCL sprain as Doc Rivers explained yesterday when I asked him about Pierce:
“I think he’s feeling better. The MCL sprain doesn’t go away,” Rivers continued. “I think he’s found a way of being more comfortable with it. I think he’s also found a way of knowing what works for him with it, where I thought it took a couple games for him to figure it out.”
While the talk over the last couple days has been about Rajon Rondo’s no-show in Game 6 and Kevin Garnett’s lack of paint presence, the hidden positive the C’s have now is Pierce rounding back into form. He’s rebounding, he’s getting to the free throw line and his 3-point shoot is returning as well.
We’ve seen Pierce put this team on his back before in a Game 7 (hello, 2008), and while I’m not counting on that tonight against Andre Iguodala, we shouldn’t rule out a 30-point performance either. I hope a heroic effort isn’t needed, but if the offense is getting stagnant elsewhere, I want the Celtics to go down fighting with the ball in the captain’s hands, creating for himself and his teammates.
In a series full of inconsistency on both sides, over the last four games, Pierce has been the one guy Boston can count on. I expect the same from him tonight.
A couple of other things to watch for heading into Game 7 this evening.
Rebounding: Another hidden positive out of Game 6, was the C’s did a nice job on the glass, prior to the 4th quarter where tired legs gave way to a couple crucial offensive rebounds for Philly. Winning the rebounding battle did not win the game for Boston in Game 6, but prior to that contest it had in games over the postseason so far for Boston. Look for that trend to continue tonight.
Turnover Battle: With a tough Philly defense already, Boston can’t afford to turn the ball over, (especially live-ball turnovers) as much as they did in Game 6, when they coughed it up 17 times. The C’s can get away with a poor shooting night or a poor turnover night, as long as they don’t occur at the same time. The turnover game they can control better themselves though, so Boston’s needs to be vigilant in this department tonight. They’ve improved their turnover rate all postseason, but they can’t afford to revert back to their regular season form in Game 7
Will Rondo the shooter show up? It’s a simple question, with no easy answer. Boston’s offense functions so much better when he is an actual threat to attack the basket. That guy will need to show up tonight, or else Boston will need heroic efforts from The Big Three to get by.