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Celtics 97, Hornets 87

Pierce stings his foe

Forward’s game too much for the Hornets

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / November 2, 2009

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It was just basketball.

Not a superhuman effort. Not a singular display of greatness. Just an observation of a weakness, and player taking advantage of a mismatch.

Paul Pierce’s 20 first-half points in Boston’s 97-87 win over New Orleans came quick and quiet - annoying taps on the shoulder to the Hornets’ defense.

An innocent caught-you sleeping layup to set the tone. A couple of Pierce-was-here drives, as the game see-sawed early on. A pair of get-back-and-stay-back threes in the second quarter, when the Celtics had taken a lead yet the Hornets threatened to cut into it.

No imposing his will, though. Just working within the confines of the offense and capitalizing on a hole in New Orleans defense.

“We noticed Peja [Stojakovic] wasn’t playing no defense,’’ said the Celtics’ Rasheed Wallace. “So [coach] Doc [Rivers] was like, ‘Look, we’re going to drop it to Paul.’ ’’

And every time, Pierce connected. After scoring 22 points against Chicago, Pierce drilled eight of his first 10 shots against New Orleans. He finished 10 of 14 from the floor, 3 for 5 from 3-point range, and it seemed like he didn’t have to force a single one.

Everything came within the system - and after completing 11 years in the league, and six with Rivers as his coach, it’s a system Pierce has the clearest understanding of.

“The older I’m getting, the wiser I’m getting, I believe, and figuring out different things that I can do on the court within the team’s system,’’ said Pierce, who finished with 27 points.

Pierce’s efficiency has been machine-like - 22 points on 12 shots against Chicago, 15 points on nine shots against Charlotte, and 23 points on 13 shots in chalking up a double-double against Cleveland.

“Paul’s been amazing,’’ Rivers said. “You can see it. Just his whole demeanor. Everything’s been good. Paul’s been a pro’s pro. Never in a hurry, lets the game come to him. So team-oriented with his defense. He’s just doing a lot of things.

“He’s playing on a team with a lot of [good players] and people overlook some of the little things that he’s doing. He’s been amazing. Absolutely amazing.’’

Coming off a pair of blowouts over Chicago and Charlotte, the Celtics faced a Hornets team that they couldn’t swat away. The Celtics shot 53.9 percent from the floor, but the Hornets shot 13 of 28 from 3-point range, finding a way to keep it within a one-shot game deep into the fourth quarter.

But each time the Hornets threatened, the Celtics weathered the storm.

“So far this year, we’ve done a great job of each game building and improving,’’ Rivers said. “This was not one of those nights.

“We won the game, and so we’ll take the win. It was good to get the win. But we absolutely didn’t improve tonight. We just won a game. And we would not win a lot of games with the way we played tonight.’’

Pierce hit a 3-pointer with 3:08 left in the second quarter that put the Celtics ahead by 11. They went into the half ahead, 47-38, and stretched it to 58-47 when Kendrick Perkins and Rajon Rondo worked a fast-break give and go, capped by a reverse dunk by Perkins.

But New Orleans kept finding ways to get within striking distance.

After being outplayed by Rondo in a chippy first half in which both of the star point guards drew technical fouls after being tangled up during a battle for a rebound, Chris Paul took control of the game in the second half, scoring 17 of his 22 points and dishing out five of his eight assists.

With the Hornets down, 68-57, with 2:54 left in the third quarter, Paul either scored or assisted on 9 points in a 12-4 run that pulled New Orleans to 72-69 by the end of the quarter.

A Stojakovic 3-pointer tied it at 74 with 10:30 left in the fourth, but down the stretch, Rivers decided to essentially make it a game of two-on-two with Pierce and Kevin Garnett (14 points, 7 rebounds) and they both took advantage.

After a timeout with 2:52 left, Pierce, who had scored just 3 second-half points at time, drilled a turnaround jumper that made it 90-83.

“The second play [after the timeout] we ran a pick and roll with KG and Paul, and we basically said if they switch, post them; if they don’t, Paul, turn a corner,’’ Rivers said. “They switched and we got Kevin down low.’’

Garnett found Rondo for a floater that gave the Celtics a 92-84 advantage, then found Pierce for a 23-footer with 1:16 seconds left that served as the dagger. Pierce didn’t demand the shot, the system created it.

“He’s not forcing anything,’’ said center Kendrick Perkins, who scored 12 points and was one of five Celtics to score in double digits).

“He’s not forcing shots, he’s making the extra pass, and he’s still scoring points.

“He’s playing very unselfish, and I think he’s just letting the game come to him.’’

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