8.03.2014

Old Habits Die Hard

11/19/04

WALTHAM - When it comes to the Celtics, few sights are more familiar than Paul Pierce forcing a shot from a seemingly impossible angle with time expiring. He made his reputation as a go-to guy by hitting his fair share of memorable buzzer-beaters, the most recent winner Nov. 10 against Portland. By force of habit, the Celtics look for Pierce early and often, especially during close contests.

   But what was once a necessity has become something of a liability. Pierce trying to single-handedly deliver victory brings to mind another set of familiar images, the latest entries coming Wednesday night against Washington in the waning moments of regulation. The Wizards defeated the Celtics, 110-105, in overtime with Pierce scoring 37 points (8 for 25). In defense of Pierce, the 17 shots he missed resulted from an offense that stopped moving the ball as well as ill-advised attempts.

When asked about the Celtics' predisposition for feeding Pierce as a first and last resort, coach Doc Rivers said, "That's fighting the past. That's going to get better. Even when Paul didn't touch it, they were waiting for him to touch it. They were [thinking], 'Where is he? We've got to find him.' If he was on my team, I'd look for him, too. I looked to Dominique [Wilkins] a lot. But if he wasn't open, I knew to move the ball and run the second and the third option. So, you might get him on the opposite side of the floor. That's what we're going to have to get comfortable with. We talked about that [yesterday] a lot and we did it a lot. But they do it a lot in practice. There's no pressure. In the game, that's a whole different subject."

The design behind the roster assembled by executive director of basketball operations Danny Ainge and the offensive system employed by Rivers was to take pressure of Pierce, to find him easier shots. But clearly, some habits are harder to break than others.

"I want him to stay aggressive, but I don't want our guys to lock on him," said Rivers. "I thought the reason Paul shot 8 for 25 was not because he was trying to win the game, but because our guys kept giving him the ball in bad spots. I told Ricky [Davis] and Gary [Payton] and everyone, 'Even if Paul's open, if he's not in the spot that we want to give him the ball, then swing it.' "

The Celtics sounded surprisingly philosophical discussing their most recent defeat. Rivers, Pierce, and Payton also seem to be working from the same script as they reiterated the importance of teamwork and ball movement.

"Now, especially down the stretch, I have to, how do I say, maybe even sacrifice a little more knowing that I've got other weapons out there who can help carry the team," said Pierce. "Gary's carried teams pretty much his whole career. Ricky is very capable. Knowing that the focus is really going to be on me, especially late in games, I've just got to do a better job of getting these guys involved because they're going to make me better.

"I'm still a young player and I'm still learning the game. There's a lot of things I have to learn, especially late in the game. I probably would have been better off driving the ball and passing it [Wednesday]. Maybe I would have gotten a better shot. But that's all part of the game. That's what you learn. All the mistakes you make, you learn from and I'm not afraid to go out there and make mistakes."

Pierce believes he can learn from Payton and trust the veteran point guard to pull off some late-game heroics this season. Payton accepted some of the blame for the Celtics' collapse in the fourth quarter against the Wizards' smaller lineup, saying he should have called different plays that would have opened up the floor. That said, Payton like Pierce and Rivers, prefers to view the Washington game as a learning experience for a team he does not expect to gel until January or February. He also empathizes with the pressure on Pierce.

"Paul's very competitive and when he gets to that position and he thinks that he needs to get the ball, he fights so much and demands for the basketball, then most of the guys who give it to him are scared not to give it to him," said Payton. "What we understand is if we rotate that ball and people fighting [him] so much are trailing him, he gets better shots.

"For years, he's been the go-to guy who takes the big shot. Now that he's got help, he's got to understand that."

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