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."