Preparing for a matchup against Bruce Bowen , Paul Pierce had defense on his mind before last night's game against the Spurs at the TD Banknorth Garden. Bowen, a member of the NBA's All-Defensive first team last season, received restrained praise from the Celtics' captain.
"He plays tough defense," said Pierce, before the Spurs defeated the Celtics, 103-82. "He gets the toughest assignments night in and night out."
More interesting than Pierce's assessment of Bowen was his contention that he should be considered for All-Defensive first-team honors. Pierce theorized all that stood between him and some defensive recognition was the absence of a top shot blocker on the Celtics. He figures Bowen has Tim Duncan , Tayshaun Prince has Ben Wallace , and Dwyane Wade has Shaquille O'Neal .
"I don't know why I'm not on the All-Defensive team every year," said Pierce. "I think I'm a pretty good defender. The only reason I'm not on the All-Defensive team year in and year out is because I don't have a top-five shot blocker on my team. If you look at all the top perimeter defenders in the league, they all have top-five shot blockers in the league [on their team]. Kobe [ Bryant ] fell out of first team All-Defensive when Shaq got traded last year. Think about it. Every team that has an All-Defensive team wing player has a shot blocker on their team. I think that's the only thing that's holding me back.
"Even Tayshaun Prince. I don't think he plays great defense. He has two of the best shot blockers in the game [Ben Wallace and Rasheed Wallace ]. If a guy blows by you, then the shot blockers block the shot and you call that great defense."
Pierce can take comfort in the fact that the Celtics' shot blocking is much improved. Although they don't have a top-five shot blocker, Boston entered last night ranked fourth in the league in team shot blocking 7.25 per game.
It was not a good night for Mark Blount , who had to contend with Duncan. Blount was not alone among the Celtics in his struggles, and he vented some of his frustration after the game.
"He's the best player in the NBA," said Blount, who finished with 3 points, 3 assists, and 1 rebound in 16 minutes. "On the other end, we've got to go back at him, make him play defense, too. It can't be a one-way street down there. I'm playing defense on him. He's got to be able to play defense on me, too. He was just free, being able to block shots and roam around."
As far as the complaints about Duncan and the way the game might have been called to his advantage, coach Doc Rivers didn't want to hear it.
"Duncan deserves everything he gets, as far as I'm concerned," said Rivers. "It's frustrating guarding Tim Duncan even if they think he's not getting the calls. He's a hell of a basketball player."
Coming up big
Al Jefferson said he was back and ready to resume his ascendancy to the league's elite after Boston lost to Charlotte in overtime last Saturday night. But it seemed a little too soon to agree. Any doubts were erased last night as Jefferson had 12 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes. He was particularly instrumental in keeping the Celtics' second-quarter run alive with his rebounding, as well as a layup late in the spurt, though he missed the opportunity to complete a 3-point play. But his best play, or at least the one that garnered the most enthusiasm, came when he took a charge from Rasho Nesterovic with 6:30 left in the second, and celebrated by pumping his fists and feet while lying on his back. "I'm back," said Jefferson. "There's nothing holding me back but me. I'm just doing my job, doing my role, whatever Doc puts me out there for. I'm just going to play it day by day." . . . Gregg Popovich treated the media to some of his trademark sarcasm before the game when asked about Duncan. The Spurs coach was asked about the rarity of having a superstar who didn't seek attention. "Tim's a pain in the [behind]," said Popovich, with tongue firmly planted in cheek. "I've grown tired of coaching him. I think his demand for a trade is coming soon." . . . Duncan took his first two 3-point attempts of the season in the first half, and finished 1 for 2 from behind the arc . . . Rivers picked up a technical with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter . . . Dan Dickau earned a flagrant foul with nine minutes to go in the fourth . . . With the rout almost in the books, the Celtics were subjected to some boos and heckling. Pierce just shrugged and said, "You get used to it. This is Boston." . . . The Spurs brought out the stars to the Garden. Cam Neely , Denis Leary , and Lenny Clarke sat courtside.