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BOSTON -- He'd be a perfect member of the Philadelphia 76ers: He can defend like a madman and he can't make a shot.
OK, maybe that's a bit over the top.
But that description happens to apply to one of the Boston Celtics right now, although neither Mickael Pietrus nor his coach is worried. Not publicly, anyway.
To say Pietrus is struggling offensively is an understatement. He is 4-of-17 from the field in the playoffs after going 0-for-2 against the Sixers in the Celtics' 92-91 victory Saturday night in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.
But Pietrus is on the floor, at times a lot, in spite of his shooting woes and a hamstring ailment that has him taped like a mummy during games. In the pivotal Game 3 of the Atlanta series, he played 25 minutes, including all of the fourth quarter and all of overtime. In Game 1 against the 76ers, he went 10 minutes, 33 seconds and was part of a group of reserves that coach Doc Rivers said changed the game despite him not making a shot, collecting a rebound or dishing out an assist.
"I thought the second unit saved the game for us," Rivers said. "They upped the energy. Keyon [Dooling] and Ryan [Hollins], MP [Pietrus], that group on the floor with Kevin [Garnett] and Ray [Allen] and Steamer [Greg Stiemsma] -- they just played so hard that it got us back in the game. Because we had to match their intensity. I told them at halftime, 'Listen, they can't be more athletic and play harder. That combination will never work for us.'"
That is why Pietrus continues to log minutes for this particular coach and this particular team. He embodies what the Celtics are all about with his unwavering commitment to defense and unending energy. So what if his shot isn't falling? He has not let the slump affect his overall play.
"The one thing I will say about him is the other end hasn't changed. He's still defending," Rivers said. "And that's good. That's the sign of a mature player, that he doesn't get so down on offense that he stops doing his job. His job for us is defense."
Then Rivers likened Pietrus' shooting slump to a more publicized, current drought.
"You almost feel like he's Albert Pujols trying to hit his first home run, you know?"
|Although he's shooting 4-for-17 this postseason, Mickael Pietrus has earned crunch-time minutes with his defense and tenacity.|
Pujols finally hit one, but it took a while. You get the feeling that Pietrus is going to knock one down soon, as well. More than one. (And when he does, could Eddie Palladino, the PA announcer, please say, "MP3!")
The shots he's missing are good shots. Rivers wants him to take them, although he told Pietrus on Saturday night that when the shot isn't falling, it might not be a bad idea to put the ball on the floor and go to the hoop. (See Pierce, Paul, Saturday night.)
Pietrus professed to be unconcerned about his scoring. He made a case for deferring to Pierce, Allen or Garnett when he is on the floor.
"My team needs me now to defend, sometimes the best player," he said after his scoreless stint Saturday night. "Sometimes, you are not going to make the shots. I am just trying to do the extra things defensively that make us a better team. You still have to be confident. I have been in the playoffs before. You know what I can do."
Yes, we do, and that's what makes it so hard to watch him rattle out shot after shot. Pietrus has been in the league for nine years -- "Call me a vet!" he said -- and has some serious playoff cred. He was on the Golden State Warriors team that took out Dallas in the first round in 2007. He averaged 10.5 points a game for the Orlando Magic team that went to the Finals in 2009.
On Saturday night, he launched one 3-pointer that was two-thirds of the way down before it took on a life of its own and spun out. That was immediately before the Celtics went down by 10 early in the fourth quarter and started their second comeback from a double-digit deficit.
"I am not worried. Why should I be worried? We're winning," he said
The Celtics have played only seven playoff games this spring, but the unconventional is almost the norm, or so it seems. Their past two home wins were games they easily could, and probably should, have lost. They got a break when the officials blew a call on Marquis Daniels at the end of Game 6 against the Hawks.
They won Game 2 in Atlanta without Rajon Rondo and Allen. In that game, Daniels was a factor down the stretch. In Game 6 against the Hawks, Hollins not only was on the floor at the end, he made a game-saving offensive rebound. Garnett played the entire fourth quarter Saturday night and was part of the fivesome, with Pietrus, Allen, Rondo and Pierce, that brought home the victory in Game 3 against Atlanta, all of them staying on the floor for the final 20-plus minutes.
Monday night's Game 2 of the Sixers series undoubtedly will produce another head-scratching moment. It could even be Pietrus finally dropping a 3, or two, on the 76ers. But if the shooting drought continues, so be it. He's going to be on the floor because he does what the Celtics do to win.
"You never know," he said. "Every series is different. I always get myself ready to make one shot or play the best game defensively that I can. It's playoff time. And at the end of the day, I am going to fight for this team."