Paul Pierce ends good week on bad note
After passing Larry Bird en route to a 10th All-Star team, The Truth can't bury Lakers
BOSTON -- The frustration on Paul Pierce's face Thursday night didn't befit a player having a pretty stellar week.
On Monday, Pierce was voted Eastern Conference Player of the Week. The next day, he leapfrogged Larry Bird for second place on the Boston Celtics' all-time scoring list. On Thursday, he was named an Eastern Conference All-Star for the 10th time, Boston's lone representative in this year's midseason festivities.
All that was standing between Pierce and one of the best weeks of his career was the rival Lakers squad that he grew up supporting, a staggering Los Angeles squad in town for a national TV battle against the surging Celtics.
But despite having the ball in his hands with two chances to win the game Thursday -- once in regulation and again in overtime -- Pierce failed to deliver.
For the moment, that diminished all the good that preceded the late-game failures in an 88-87 overtime loss to the Lakers.
"One of them, I didn't make the pass; the second one, I missed the shot," Pierce said with a shrug while breaking down the missed opportunities.
Part of his frustration stemmed from the fact that the Celtics have been rather brilliant during the Big Three era in executing in late-game situations. Coach Doc Rivers has become king of the dry-erase board, given all the game-winning shots his team has produced in recent seasons, with Boston consistently delivering in big spots.
But an offense that couldn't get out of its own way for much of Thursday's game really stumbled with a chance to pull out a big win. Sure, the Celtics have fumbled late-game moments in recent seasons, but nothing like this.
With the game knotted at 82 with 9.8 seconds remaining in regulation, Rivers drew up a little pick-and-roll play designed either to generate Pierce a decent look from his sweet spot, or to catch Ray Allen on a flare if the defense jumped Pierce.
The latter happened and Allen found himself wide open on the left wing. But, for some reason, Pierce couldn't pull the trigger on the pass and the play broke down, with the Celtics ultimately failing to get a shot off before the buzzer.
"We set a pick-and-roll there with me and Ray," said Pierce. "Ray was the flare and I didn't think he was open. I shouldn't have picked up my dribble. It kind of broke up the play when I picked up my dribble."
Said Allen: "I'd like to look at it again. I was wide open. Paul, as he started dribbling off, both of [the defenders] stayed with him, and I was sitting there wide open. Paul just said as he was going, he didn't want to throw the ball. He was kind of in a bad position. It's just the way he went off. If he knew they were going to jump up so hard and they were going to have to double him, he would have veered off a little bit more, so he could have a little bit better passing angle. But I thought either me or Kevin had an opportunity out there."
Despite the breakdown, the Celtics still had another chance to win the game in overtime. After Andrew Bynum's tip-in put the Lakers in front 88-87 with 89 seconds to go, Boston actually had four shot attempts with a chance to pull ahead. Kevin Garnett missed two jumpers and the Celtics again failed to execute in the final seconds.
With 6.1 seconds to go, the Celtics put the ball back in Pierce's hands. He managed to get to his spot on the right wing, but he was forced to hang in the air a bit longer than he might have liked; his shot was off-line. Allen actually crashed hard and tried to sneak up a putback with 0.3 seconds to go, but Pau Gasol rotated over and blocked the effort to seal the Lakers' victory.
"I was in the perfect situation and [Gasol] came out of nowhere," said Allen.
Regarding the final play of overtime, Rivers added, "I don't mind. Paul got a decent shot -- his shot. Honestly, the first option which we looked for wasn't there and I wanted a timeout, but I gave [Rajon] Rondo the luxury of, if he thought Paul can get it, go for it."
Over the past two seasons, the Celtics have hardly been the kings of late-game heroics. An inability to produce the winner in a tied-game situation feels more the norm than the exception. But Boston has always seemingly generated the big play when trailing with a chance to win it.
That left Boston frustrated with its effort. To be fair, Rivers didn't limit his frustration to the final moments of regulation and overtime.
"I thought our execution the whole game was terrible," said Rivers. "I thought this was an awful game, except that they won. If we had won it, it would've been an awful game that we had won. That's how I felt.
"I just thought our execution was off all night. Give them credit, some of it was [the Lakers'] defense. I thought a lot of it was self-inflicted. We've been very good at just running the floor, ball movement, second and third options, second and third picks. Today ... it was no fun to watch."
The failure to execute left the coach feeling a lot like the captain. Rivers was having a heck of a week, too, especially after watching his son Austin sink a game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer as Duke stunned North Carolina on Wednesday night. In the stands in Chapel Hill, N.C. (the Celtics had an off day), Rivers celebrated his son's big shot (Kobe Bryant told Doc that his son has "got some big cojones.")
Sitting at the interview podium Thursday night after the loss, Rivers couldn't have appeared more disappointed in his team's missed opportunities.
It's something he knows has to change for the Celtics if they want to maintain the success that had seen them win five games in a row (and nine of their previous 10).
"It's called basketball. Really, it happens," said Rivers. "It happens in a playoff game. So I'm disappointed, and I'm not happy with it, but it's not like it's been a trend. So we've got to fix it [Friday]. That's the good and bad thing about our league right now: You have so [little] time to get over it. So that's a good thing, I guess."
After a stellar week, Pierce and Rivers were frustrated to be left grasping at silver linings.
Chris Forsberg covers the Celtics for ESPNBoston.com.