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.
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
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
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.
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.' "
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.
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
"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."
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
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."