Monday, May 10, 2010
Practice notes: Pierce healthy, confident
By Chris Forsberg
WALTHAM, Mass. -- A collection of news and notes after the Boston Celtics practiced Monday afternoon at the Sports Authority Training Center at HealthPoint in advance of Tuesday's Game 5 of an Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cleveland Cavaliers:
Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce understands it's only natural for some to question whether he's completely healthy given his offensive struggles against the Cleveland Cavaliers so far this series, but he stressed Monday he's in good condition and reaffirmed that his production doesn't matter so long as his team wins.
"There's nothing wrong with me," said Pierce. "The key for me is to just being focus, being ready to give this team what it needs to win. There's nothing wrong with me."
Averaging 11.8 points per game on 32 percent shooting through four games, Pierce is under the microscope for a dip in his typical offensive production. On Monday, repeating what he said after Game 4, Pierce stressed that his focus in this Eastern Conference semifinal series is more on the defensive end.
"I do whatever I gotta do to help this team win," said Pierce. "Guarding LeBron [James] is no easy task. He's the two-time MVP and a lot of their offense goes through him -- pretty much all of it. I know I have to focus on that end, more so than the offense. I knew that coming into the series."
Celtics coach Doc Rivers echoed everything Pierce stated, suggesting he's healthy and doing his part defensively.
"Paul's fine," said Rivers. "Obviously, we want more out of him. But we're getting a lot out of him. The unfortunate part, for Paul, is that he's an offensive player, and that's what everyone sees in him. He has a defensive role this series, and [the skeptics] are going to look at his offensive numbers. That's the bad part of being Paul Pierce. If it was Tony Allen, people would be happy because he's doing a great job defensively. But it's Paul and they want more. We're going to get more out of Paul, I believe that."
The counterargument is that Allen guarded James for much of Game 4 and still found a way to score 15 points, which is more than Pierce has totaled in any of the four games thus far against Cleveland. Pierce has been plagued by foul trouble and both coach and player admitted that's an area of concern.
"It's really been throwing me off, getting two quick fouls pretty much every game in the first quarter," said Pierce. "Hopefully I can clean that up, be more consistent. ... I'm digging myself a ditch with fouls. There's good fouls that I’m getting, and some bad ones. That’s way the game goes. I know I can do a better job at it."
Added Rivers: "I think, over anything, having played that game, when you get early fouls, rhythm-wise, it takes you out of games. Two early fouls, it's had an impact."
When a reporter jokingly suggested bringing Pierce off the bench instead, Rivers chuckled and stressed again how good he's been defensively.
"I thought last night, [Pierce] was the best [at defending James] of all the games," said Rivers. "In Game 2 he was pretty good at it, just trying to get in his airspace. It's a tough job. They use him in so many ways. LeBron is different than a lot of other great players because, the other great players, you know what they do -- there's usually one thing. LeBron runs the point at times, he's a facilitator, he's a driver. He's their speed player when trying to get in transition, he's a poster player. There's a lot of stuff."
When Pierce was asked about his pivotal two-handed, baseline slam in a one-possession game in the fourth quarter, he laughed at the suggestion of rising to the occasion despite his struggles.
“I'm ready -- I’m not a rookie,” Pierce chuckled. “This is my 12th year. I’ve been in every situation. Foul trouble, not playing, things not going well for you. I know how to get through those times. It doesn’t affect me like it used to when I was a younger player, when I had two or three fouls where and not really playing the type of basketball I wanted to play. The key is to stay focused, do what I have to do to help the team. All that other stuff goes out the window."
Rondo's ready for the LeBron treatment
The day after his 29-point, 18-rebound, 13-assist effort, Rajon Rondo remained the center of attention at Celtics' practice. But the focus had shifted slightly from his efforts in Game 4, to whether he can have as much of an impact in Game 5 if the Cavaliers employ James to defend him.
Rondo and the Celtics seem unconcerned with the situation.
"It really doesn’t matter about the matchup," said Rondo. "Obviously, it's the playoffs and the big thing is matchups, but, to me, I don’t really care who’s guarding me. I gotta run the offense and in our system. If we get easy looks in transition, it doesn’t matter who's guarding me."
Echoed Pierce: "I'm not really concerned about [Lebron on Rondo]. We gotta get the ball to Rondo on the break, let him dictate the pace. It doesn't matter. We've got to get him open, set screens, cause different matchups for him. If they put LeBron on him, it really doesn't matter."
Rondo noted that James is a great help defender and will likely be involved in helping when Rondo doesn't have the ball. That's a strategy similar to what the Lakers used against Rondo in the 2008 NBA Finals. It will be up to Rondo to keep James -- or any defender, for that matter -- honest by making jump shots and finding ways to create havoc when afforded space.
Click HERE to read more on the potential LeBron vs. Rondo matchup.