- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- It's fair to assume Celtics trainer Ed Lacerte has unlimited text messaging. See, any time a Boston player is injured, he's supposed to keep in touch with Lacerte so the team can assess the injury and determine his status moving forward.
With Paul Pierce nursing a couple of maladies coming off Tuesday's loss in New York, Lacerte spent Wednesday morning checking his phone for any sort of update. His cellphone never buzzed. Celtics coach Doc Rivers wasn't as fortunate.
"It's funny, my day today was Eddie texting me three or four times: 'I haven't heard back from Paul, I haven't heard back from Paul,'" Rivers recalled. "When a guy gets hurt, they have to check in with the trainer. So up until when we got [to TD Garden before Wednesday's game against the Magic], we didn't know if Paul was going or not. But we assumed he was because when he doesn't respond, that means, 'Why are you texting me? I'm fine.'"
If Pierce was limited at all by thigh and toe issues, he hardly showed it. Not only did he do Pierce-like things -- hitting a clinching step-back jumper as part of a game-high 29 points -- but he elevated his playmaking in the absence of Rajon Rondo, handing out a career-high 14 assists as Boston clinched the Atlantic Division title by edging the Orlando Magic 102-98.
"I knew when I got up this morning that I was going to play," Pierce said. "This is an important game for us, trying to wrap up the division. Orlando's ailing just as much as we are. Rondo was out; Ray [Allen] was out; Mickael Pietrus was out. So I was going to do everything in my power to try and be ready for tonight."
One night after producing the first regular-season 40-point game of the Big Three era (dropping 43 points on the Knicks), Pierce came out with the goal of filling Rondo's role as distributor.
Pierce handed out eight first-quarter assists, and Boston built an 11-point lead after one frame. He had 11 helpers at the intermission -- meaning he's a mere 22 games from matching Rondo's double-digit assist streak.
But in the absence of key bench players such as Pietrus and Allen, Rivers playfully reminded Pierce at halftime to also look for his shot.
"You want him to shoot sometimes. Early on he was trying to be [the] distributor, and I said, 'Distribute it to the basket,'" Rivers recalled with a laugh. "That was really important for us tonight."
Pierce scored 16 of his points after the break, connecting on five of eight shots and six of seven free throws in the second half. No shot was bigger than a 16-foot step-back jumper over old friend Glen Davis to put Boston up 100-96 with 7.6 seconds to play.
"I just took what was given to me," Pierce said. "I was just trying to be aggressive all the time. Offensively, look for my shot and for when the passes were there. Tonight I just had the opportunity to handle the ball a little bit more. Usually that's Rondo's duty, and I'm cutting, slashing, getting open for the ball. Tonight it was in my hands; I got to do a lot of playmaking."
There was little doubt what play Pierce was going to make in the final seconds. He dribbled down the clock before initiating a high pick-and-roll with Kevin Garnett. The Magic switched, leaving Davis trying to defend. Pierce got him leaning ever so slightly toward the basket at the right elbow before stepping back and rattling the shot home.
"'Truth' was classic at the end," Garnett said. "From being his teammate for a while now, he has a good feel on when to distribute and consolidate the ball. And he has a good feel for when, I wouldn't say flip the switch, but be a lot more aggressive."
Pierce is the reigning Eastern Conference player of the month, but his exploits have floated quietly under the radar lately as much of the national attention has fallen on Garnett, who's thriving since moving to center in the second half of the season, and Rondo, who's posting the lengthy double-digit assist streak and frequent triple-doubles.
Through it all, Pierce is still the team's most valuable all-around player, adapting his game to give the Celtics exactly what they need at the right moment.
"He just does his job," Rivers said. "Paul is not flashy. I don't even know how Paul scores sometimes. He doesn't look like he's that quick, but he is. He's just got a gift; he's a professional scorer."
And, on some nights, a professional facilitator. Or, as the Magic learned, a professional pain in the rear.
"He's a great player," Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said. "They've got two Hall of Famers on the floor [in Pierce and Garnett]. I've been to the Hall of Fame. I don't know if that evens it up or not. [Pierce] made some good shots, some really big shots."
It's safe to say Pierce won't have to text Lacerte on Friday. His performance suggested he's just fine.
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