Celtics

Pierce gets offensive in defending LeBron

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Pierce gets offensive in defending LeBron

WALTHAM Paul Pierce is one of those rare NBA players you can legitimately call a professional scorer. But as the Boston Celtics get deeper into the playoffs, Pierce's role continues to evolve from being a big-time scorer to a much-needed defensive stopper.

Of course, no one is going to completely shut down LeBron James. But making him actually have to work a little bit harder can only help.

That certainly was the case in Boston's Game 3 win over the Miami Heat, a game in which Pierce's scoring (24 points) helped offset another big night scoring for James (game-high 34 points).

Being a more aggressive scorer against James does, in fact, help defensively.

For starters, it means James has to exert more energy on the defensive end of the floor, which you hope, over the course of a game, will make him a less efficient scorer. Plus if you're attacking him more offensively, it likely means you're not in foul trouble - something Pierce knows all too well, having matched up with Atlanta's Joe Johnson and Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala prior to meeting James in the Eastern Conference finals.

Pierce reminded all that when given a chance to play relatively free of foul trouble, he can make things quite interesting at the small forward position in this series. The 24 points he scored in Game 3 were the most he has had thus far in this series.

Pierce and the C's would love another strong scoring game in tonight's Game 4 matchup.

Coach Doc Rivers said it wasn't just a coincidence that Pierce's scoring picked up when he finally had a game in which he wasn't in foul trouble.

"Paul has a tough job. He has to guard a pretty good player, a pretty physical player," said Rivers, referring to James. "And then he has to go and try to score 20 for us as well . . . In Game 1, he got an early foul that I thought threw him off. In Game 2, he was in foul trouble. In Game 3, he didn't have to worry about fouls."

The word of the day for the Celtics going into Game 3 was 'aggressive,' something they all seemed to buy into at the very start.

This was especially true of Pierce, who had eight points in the first quarter and went into the half with 15 points. The points were important, obviously. But just as vital to the C's success was that Pierce was managing to get to the free-throw line. His 15 first-half points came on 5-for-13 shooting from the field. However, Pierce did make all four of his first-half free throws.

"Fouls affect an offensive player just as much as it does on defense," Rivers said. "You don't want to drive anymore. You're worried about offensive fouls. It takes you out of your game. I thought the fact that Paul had low fouls allowed him to be very aggressive."

Not having to worry as much about fouls certainly helped.

But Pierce thought the Celtics did a better job executing their offense, and that was just as important in his success and that of the team.

"We moved the ball better," Pierce said. "The ball didn't stick -- they're a great defensive team when the ball is sticking on one side of the floor and they are loading up. We set harder screens. We cut a little bit better, and it frees up everybody when we play that way."

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

Plenty of on-the-job training for Celtics' rookies

BOSTON – With all the changes the Celtics went through over the summer, seeing more rookies on the floor this season was a given.
 
But six?
 
Yes, only three games into the season and the Celtics have played more rookies than any team under fifth-year coach Brad Stevens.

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And in the 102-92 victory at Philadelphia on Friday night, the Celtics (1-2) played almost as many first-year players (five) as veterans (six).
 
The youth movement here in Boston has been sped up a bit by the season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward, compounded by a left ankle sprain to Marcus Smart that Smart said won’t keep him out any more than Friday night in Philly.

Even if Smart is back in the Celtics lineup Tuesday night against New York, that doesn’t change the fact that Boston will continue to need rookies to step up and contribute going forward as they did on Friday.
 
And while there’s an old adage about experience being the greatest teacher, Boston’s youngsters are going to have to fast-forward past some of those on-the-floor growing pains for the Celtics to stay among the top teams in the East.
 
“Everybody talks about young players having to learn by going through experience,” said Stevens. “Why don’t we just watch film and learn? Learn from things we can control and in the interim, let’s beat the age thing. Let’s not talk about the age thing. Let’s talk about how we can be better at what we can control and how we can learn and grow every day and expedite the learning curve.
 
Stevens added, “because they are going to get opportunities all the way down the line, let’s not focus on trying to learn from experience; let’s focus on learning from every day and see if we can get a little bit better every day.”
 
The one rookie who has had no problem adjusting to the NBA game early on has been Jayson Tatum.
 
Selected with the third overall pick last June, Tatum has been among the NBA's most productive rookies in this first week of the season.
 
Tatum’s 35.3 minutes played per game is tops among all rookies. His 12.3 points and 9.0 rebounds rank seventh and fourth among his first-year brethren.
 
Stevens loves what he has seen thus far from Tatum, but believes he’s capable of making an even greater impact sooner rather than later.
 
“I like him to shoot it on the catch more,” Stevens said. “Because he has tremendous touch. When he shoots it in rhythm with confidence, the ball finds the net. He’s one of those guys; he’s a natural scorer. But his ability to read the game … he’s very intelligent. It’s been more evident on the defensive end. He’s gonna pick his spots offensively now. But we want him to be aggressive and first and foremost, be a threat to shoot it every time he catches it.
 
Stevens added, “I guess it should feel pretty good when you’re 19 years old and your coach is begging you to shoot it.”
 
How quickly Tatum and the rest of Boston’s youngsters grow into the roles they will be asked to play this season can do nothing but help the Celtics adapt to what has already been a season with major changes needing to be made.
 
“You saw [against Philadelphia], we had Shane [Larkin], we had Guerschon [Yabusele], we had guys coming in that played the game at a high level and we need them to contribute,” said Boston’s Kyrie Irving. “For me to see that and witness that, it makes me nothing but proud and happy to have teammates that are ready to play. It’s not always going to look perfect because we’re still gaining knowledge about one another. But as long as we’re out there competing, having each other’s backs, that’s all that matters.”