Celtics

Pierce still struggling with foot injury

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Pierce still struggling with foot injury

BOSTON -- Paul Pierce admits he is still feeling the effects of a foot injury. He isnt sugarcoating the fact that he isnt one hundred percent.

On Friday night, Pierce scored 13 points off 12 field goal attempts (3-12 FG, 2-3 3PG, 5-5 FT) in the Boston Celtics' 88-79 loss to the Chicago Bulls. His season average stands at 13.7 points per game, down from a team-leading 18.9 last season.

But while he is struggling to find consistency at the start of this season (he missed the first three games), those on the opposing side are still respecting the Celtics' captain.

I really have a lot of respect for Paul, Bulls forward Luol Deng (21 points, 16 rebounds) said following game. Ive watched him a lot and when Im working on my game, I really watch a lot of stuff he does. Whenever I play Paul, I just try to make it hard for him. The thing that always gets me is his pump fake and we were talking about it -- I think every game I played him in my career, I think he got me with a pump fake and he still gets me every time. Hes just a great player."

Bulls head coach (and former Celtics assistant coach) Tom Thibodeau noted the impact Pierce can make on defense. The Celtics have been, on average, outrebounded by their opponents and did not score any second chance points on Wednesday against the Dallas Mavericks. Even though he isnt the biggest player on the team, Thibodeau says Pierce is a big contributor.

The thing that probably gets overlooked quite a bit is Pierces rebounding, he said before the game, adding, Pauls real tough, so when their bigs go to help, he sinks in there, hes not afraid to mix it up. Hes a complete player and he adds so much to their team.

Celtics head coach Doc Rivers knows what Pierce is capable of and wants him on the court as much as possible. At the same time, he is being cautious of the veterans minutes and health in this shortened season.

Hes working through it, Rivers said. Listen, Pauls playing hard. Like I told you, Im using the minutes for him to try to get him in better shape and better rhythm. Is it the best situation for all of us? No, but weve just got to endure through this until he gets right. You can see it. Even early at the game, he had some explosive moves, couldnt finish, and I cant imagine how frustrating it is for him. But hes doing everything right. And hes doing everything that he possibly can do to get right.

With praise and support coming from both sides of the court, what does Pierce have to say about this himself?

I'm not going to say I'm 100 percent, he said. I didn't come back 100 percent. I'm getting back in basketball shape, obviously. The heel isn't all the way where I'd like it to be. At some point in the season it will be. It's nothing that I'm worried about right now. I know I have to play better basketball for us, bottom line."

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WATCH: Celtics vs. Mavericks

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Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Celtics-Mavericks preview: C's need to play Smart vs. Dallas

Get it done. No excuses.
 
That has been how the Boston Celtics have played most of this season.
 
And if there’s one Celtics player who embodies that on this team, it’s Marcus Smart.
 
The fourth-year guard has struggled all season with his shot-making, but when the game is on the line in the fourth quarter you can count on Smart to be on the floor.

THE WINNING STREAK

He has been among the many reasons Boston has won 15 in a row, which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.
 
And Smart will be among the Celtics looking to keep it going tonight against the Dallas Mavericks.
 
Most likely, Smart will make an impact with his defense, which is among the best in the NBA.

How good?
 
Smart has a defensive rating of 93.4 (points allowed per 100 possessions) which is tops among all guards in the NBA, and ranks third among all players who have played in at least 10 games this season.
 
But in the 110-99 win over the Hawks, Smart knocked down a couple of 3-pointers which was a big deal considering how mightily he has struggled shooting the ball this season.
 
Smart is shooting 27.3 percent from the field as well as from 3-point range – both career lows.
 
However, he’s also averaging career highs in assists (4.5) and rebounds (5.1) this season.
 
And while he certainly doesn’t appear to be affected by the shooting struggles, he acknowledges that it is something that he can’t help but think about from time to time.
 
“It does affect you, especially if you’ve been working (on shooting) all summer,” Smart said. “At the same time, I don’t take as many shots. But like I said, we got other guys who are playing well. My job is to get them the ball and do whatever I can, go back down the floor, play defense and get the ball again.”

In Boston’s win over Atlanta, Smart spent a good amount of time defending Marco Belinelli who had four points on 2-for-10 shooting compared to 19 points on 6-for-10 shooting when these two teams met earlier this month.
 
Coach Brad Stevens pointed to the job Smart did on Belinelli, in addition to the clutch offensive rebound he was able to snag and quickly put back up and in that gave Boston a 103-95 game with about two minutes to play.
 
“He was really good,” Stevens said.
 
The same could be said for most of the Celtics of late.
 
Kyrie Irving is coming off his most efficient game of the season, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting from the field. Jayson Tatum had a rough start, but he came on strong as well with 14 points – all coming in the second half.
 
But the backbone of Boston’s success lies in what they’re able to get done defensively.
 
So far, Boston’s defense has been as strong as we’ve seen this early, in quite some time.
 
Boston, which has a league-best defensive rating of 95.9, has length, savvy and an overall total buy-in by the players on what Brad Stevens is looking for, from them.
 
Meanwhile, the Mavericks (3-14) are coming off their most impressive victory this season, a 111-79 win over Milwaukee.  Dennis Smith Jr. has been among the more talented rookies this season. He’s averaging 14.5 points, 4.2 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game. Dallas is indeed in a transition period where longtime superstar Dirk Nowitzki (10.3 points, 5.5 rebounds per game) is gradually passing the torch to his younger teammates like Harrison Barnes (18.7 points, 7.1 rebounds) and Smith Jr.
 
Much like the Hawks game, the Celtics must approach this game with a focus on the opponent and not their record.
 
Because the Celtics are no longer just a good team on the schedule. They are a measuring stick for most to see how they stack up against the league’s best.
 
And the Celtics understand how their success has changed how teams see them.
 
“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

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