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Thursday, June 7, 2012
Updated: June 9, 7:55 PM ET
This time, Pierce not so clutch

By Chris Forsberg
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It might be the iconic moment of Boston's playoff run. Heck, it might even be the wallpaper on the desktop behind your browser window.

In the final minute of Boston's Game 5 victory in Miami on Tuesday, Paul Pierce splashed a dagger of a 3-pointer over LeBron James. As he skipped back to the Boston bench, a wide grin on his face, Pierce appeared to be mouthing, "I'm so bad!" having just put the Celtics one win from the NBA Finals.

LeBron James and Kevin Garnett
From the start of Game 6, Paul Pierce struggled to get into a rhythm.

Boston is still looking for that win after absorbing a 98-79 loss Thursday night in Game 6 at TD Garden. One in which Pierce was the other sort of bad.

Much like his teammates, Pierce struggled with his shot, connecting on just four of 18 attempts, and he finished with nine points, five rebounds, three steals and three turnovers over 31 minutes. All while watching counterpart James dominate in a do-or-die situation by scoring 45 points on 19-of-26 shooting.

The series heads back to Miami tied at three games apiece with a decisive Game 7 looming Saturday night at AmericanAirlines Arena.

The Celtics don't need Pierce to carry them in Game 7; that assignment falls more on the shoulders of Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett -- Boston's biggest mismatches in this series. But Pierce's effort Thursday night in a big-game situation simply wasn't Pierce-like.

No, Pierce has a penchant for stepping up in the biggest moments. He proved it with that cold-blooded 3-pointer over James during Game 5. And the Celtics need more of that Saturday night to prolong their season.

One thing's clear: This team has faith in its captain.

"He'll bounce back," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "Paul is a big-game player. Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have. What I saw tonight, I thought he was ready for the game, he just didn't have a great game. We don't look into it much more than that, at least I don't."

It was clear from the jump that Pierce didn't have it and James most certainly did. Pierce missed three of four shots in the opening frame, then got tagged with two fouls less than a minute apart midway through the second quarter (giving him three for the game) and was forced to sit the remainder of the half.

James, meanwhile, connected on 12 of 14 shots as part of a 30-point first-half outburst that put Boston (and a silenced Garden) on its heels. As Pierce was quick to point out, the Celtics were getting good looks offensively, but, "we're a defensive team first. I don't think we defended well, from start to finish."

Pierce showered James and the Heat with praise for their dominant Game 6 effort, but the frustration from not capitalizing on a chance to seal the series on Boston's home turf was palpable.

"For us to come out and play the way we did, it's very tough," Pierce said.

Pierce, who sprained his left MCL earlier this postseason during a team walk-through, is clearly grinding his way through the playoffs. His long-distance shooting is off, exemplified by his going 2-of-12 (16.7 percent) from beyond 10 feet in Game 6. According to ESPN Stats & Info, Pierce is shooting a mere 26.9 percent from that range this posteason, down considerably from recent playoffs (45.5 percent in 2011, 40.2 percent in 2010).

It doesn't help that, not only has he often had some of the toughest defensive assignments for Boston, but he's also drawn some of the league's top defenders at the other end.

Despite his struggles, his teammates remain convinced Pierce will come through when it matters.

"He'll be back, and he'll keep playing aggressive," Keyon Dooling said. "He doesn't leave any bullets in the chamber -- he's going to shoot them. If he gets Paul Pierce shots, he's going to shoot them."

Dooling said it's on the supporting cast to do a better job of creating quality shots for Pierce.

But a little adversity won't deter Pierce. This is when he -- and the Celtics as a whole -- tend to thrive.

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"This team has been about adversity all year long," he said. "So this is not going to be anything new. It's been tough for us all year long to get to the point where we want to be at. Why wouldn't it be tough now? Winning is hard. Trying to get to the Finals is hard. And this is as hard as it gets. But I think we are prepared for it."

In fact, Pierce wouldn't mind if you wrote him and his teammates off.

"We've been the underdog all year long," he said. "Going into Game 7 as the underdog -- we are right where we want to be."

It didn't need to be this tough, but that's the road Boston has chosen yet again. It's another opportunity for Pierce to step up. And maybe create your next desktop background.