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(Even) better with time

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Paul Pierce is quietly putting together another phenomenal campaign.Paul Pierce is no longer just a scorer, but an efficient one. No longer just a player, but a vocal leader. As each year passes, The Truth evolves, writes Peter May:

Paul Pierce matched his season high of 28 points in the Boston Celtics' 99-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday. He was nearly perfect from the field (9-of-11), blaming the two misses on (A) getting fouled and (B) "the rim must have moved." He also made all six of his free throws.

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Paul Pierce's 28 points wasn't his only impressive feat against the Blazers. He also made key defensive plays.But three plays Pierce made Wednesday speak to the ever-evolving game of the Celtics' captain because none of them involved him scoring -- and two of them were on the defensive end. The guy who once was known and, occasionally, feared as a pure volume scorer is still that -- but he's more than just a points machine.

As coach Doc Rivers said Wednesday, "He has been off the charts. All season."

The most memorable of the three plays was, of course, The Pass. Pierce had the ball to himself at the top of the key, examining the Blazers' zone defense. He had it going, as they say, so he was a logical choice to take the shot. But he saw Andre Miller cheat a little and whipped a pass to a wide-open Ray Allen, who up to that point had missed 11 of 13 shots and all five of his 3-pointer attempts. Allen, of course, made the 3, clinching the win. Pierce insisted he'd make that same play every time.

Actually, he has made it at least once before. In the Big Three's first season together, the Celtics appeared to have lost a game in Charlotte in November. The Bobcats led by two points near the end and had the ball for an inbounds pass. But the pass was deflected and ended up in Pierce's hands. He had little time to shoot, but he saw Allen at the top of the key. He passed it over, and Allen, who until that point had missed 11 of 14 shots, including all five of his 3-point attempts, naturally drained a 3 at the buzzer to win the game.

"How can you not make that pass? Ray Allen is one of the best shooters in NBA history,'' Pierce said Wednesday. "Ray Allen wide open for the game is a no-brainer. I'm going to give it to him.''

He said almost the identical thing three years ago.

The first of the two defensive plays came shortly after the Celtics had taken the lead for good in the third quarter. They led 72-70 when Pierce, who was assigned to stop Wesley Matthews (who to that point had scorched Allen), bottled up the Blazers in the corner to force an air ball and a subsequent 24-second violation.

Then, in the fourth quarter, when the Celtics were in the midst of building their commanding (ha!) 16-point lead, he made a perfect rotation to stop a driving LaMarcus Aldridge, giving Kevin Garnett enough time to get back into the play and block Aldridge from behind.

Plays like that are more the norm than the exception these days for Pierce. But they can and do occasionally get overlooked because of what Pierce is doing at the other end of the floor. He was always a scorer. He was never an efficient scorer. Now he is.

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