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Paul Pierce gets congratulated by Rajon Rondo during Wednesday's tilt with the Phoenix Suns.BOSTON -- Celtics coach Doc Rivers once labeled Paul Pierce a "professional scorer", which shouldn't come as much of a shock considering Pierce's remarkable ability to put the ball in the basket. But part of being a professional scorer is knowing when -- and when not -- to force the issue on the offensive end, whether it be due to an off-shooting night -- which happens to even the most prolific of point producers -- or another teammate having a more favorable matchup with an opponent.
After an emphatic jam over Channing Frye, Paul Pierce gets some love from Kevin Garnett.Against the Los Angeles Clippers last Saturday, Pierce finished the 99-92 victory having shot just 6-of-14 from the floor, but that number easily could have been worse. But rather than force his own offense on a night when his shot wasn't falling, Pierce compensated by attacking the rim and getting to the free throw line. He finished the game with a team-high 24 points, and tied season-highs in both free throws attempted (13) and made (11).
With the Phoenix Suns in town on Wednesday night, Pierce could have taken advantage of his matchups with the likes of Grant Hill and Jared Dudley, but he knew a better matchup existed: The one between Kevin Garnett and Channing Frye. As a result, Pierce sat back and let Garnett go to work in the post. The result was a 5-of-5 shooting performance in the first quarter for Garnett, translating to 12 points (he added two free throws) and an early 11-point lead. Garnett would go on to finish with a season-high 28 points on 12-of-14 shooting with 11 rebounds.
Pierce notched six first-quarter points of his own on 3-of-4 shooting, proving he also could have had one of his finer offensive nights of the season. But rather than try and match Garnett bucket-for-bucket, Pierce picked his spots, and contributed in other key areas, like the rebounding column. Pierce finished with a season-high 13 rebounds in the Celtics' 115-103 victory over the Suns, leading the charge on a night when the Celtics owned a distinctive 45-33 advantage on the glass.
"[Wednesday], I felt the need to [rebound]," said Pierce. "We played a lot through Kevin, that was the game plan coming in. I just tried to do the other things. Doc, before the game said, 'Kevin should get 20 looks tonight.' That's the advantage with him, so I said, 'Okay.' Let me see how I can get involved, getting on the rebounds, doing the other little dirty things to help this team."
In addition to being a professional scorer, Pierce has proven he's more than capable of doing those other little dirty things his team needs in order to secure a victory. Against the Suns, it was rebounding. Against the Clippers, it was setting the tone by getting to the free throw line (that night, his team followed suit as the C's ended up shooting a season-high 41 attempts from the charity stripe).
Earlier in the season, in the first two games of what would go on to be a seven-game absence for point guard Rajon Rondo, Pierce notched 10 and 12 assists, respectively, as he did his best to keep his team's offense in sync. While Pierce's most prolific talent might be his scoring prowess, his abilities to do other key things on the court -- like rebounding and finding open teammates -- have been instrumental to the Celtics' success this season.
In the midst of doing the little things, though, Pierce still managed to produce an efficient 16 points on 6-of-9 shooting, ending a three-game stretch in which he shot less than 43 percent from the field each night. While Garnett served as the rock of offensive consistency for the Celtics against the Suns, the majority of Pierce's points seemed to come at times that led to changes in the tone of the game. Less than four minutes into the contest, Pierce intercepted a Steve Nash pass, drove the length of the floor, and slammed the ball home, prompting the Suns to call the game's first timeout as the Celtics' lead jumped to 16-8.
Pierce scored his final seven points of the game with less than three minutes to play, with the Suns threatening to come back from what was once a 29-point deficit. He helped seal things for good by sneaking back door along the baseline on an inbounds play with just over a minute remaining and the Celtics leading by nine. Rondo found Pierce under the basket on the inbound for an easy layup and a double-digit lead.
But what was arguably the most important Pierce basket of all came when the Celtics were in the midst of amassing that 29-point advantage, not when they were trying to hold onto it. The Celtics already boasted a 22-point cushion with just over seven minutes to play in the third quarter, when Suns forward Grant Hill had big ideas of his own as he drove to the hoop from the left wing and skied up, attempting to put down a statement slam dunk over Boston center Nenad Krstic. Krstic contested the shot enough for Hill to botch the dunk, and the ball found its way to Rondo, who flipped it ahead to Pierce, who was already streaking down the floor ahead of the field.
Having caught the ball, Pierce proceeded to do what Hill could not, as he slashed towards the rim on the left side, rose up, and threw down a thunderous left-handed dunk over the pursuing Channing Frye, drawing a foul in the process. Pierce buried the free throw, and the three-point play ended up as the spark of a larger 13-6 burst that saw the Celtics build a 29-point lead that proved to be too much for Phoenix to overcome.
I'm just playing, I'm just playing aggressive," said Pierce. "It didn't matter who it was at the time, I was going up strong. Truthfully, it didn't even matter."
Greg Payne is a student intern for ESPNBoston.com