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Pierce has been off his game

Celtics forward aims to regain shooting touch

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 8, 2010

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Has anyone seen Paul Pierce lately? After three solid games in the Celtics’ first-round ouster of the Heat, Pierce has been missing in action in the Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Cavaliers.

In Game 1 — a 101-93 Cleveland victory, Pierce made just 5 of 17 shots for 13 points and was not a factor. The Celtics bounced back to win Game 2 Monday night, but it was another indifferent showing for Pierce — 4 for 10, 14 points.

Both performances were below the standard the veteran forward had established — 22.3 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists in 77 career playoff games.

Last night was the worst effort of the three games against the Cavaliers — a 124-95 blowout loss at TD Garden — as Pierce made only 4 of 15 shots, finished with 11 points and, even worse from his standpoint, was part of a Celtic defense that was a no-show almost from the opening tipoff.

“It doesn’t matter what I do [offensively],’’ said Pierce. “I could have scored 30 and we wouldn’t have won the game, the way we played defense tonight.’’

But if the Celtics are going to even this series — which continues tomorrow afternoon at the Garden — Pierce is going to have to deliver on both ends of the court.

“He’s got to get more involved,’’ said coach Doc Rivers. “He’s got to play better.’’

The Cavaliers know they are catching an unusual downward trend with Pierce’s performances thus far.

“You are not going to stop someone like Paul Pierce,’’ said Cavaliers coach Mike Brown. “He’s an All-Star. He’s been here before, many times over.’’

LeBron James dominated his matchup against Pierce last night, scoring 38 points and never letting Pierce get into his comfort zone.

“We’re not doing anything special on Paul,’’ said Brown. “LeBron has had that assignment for most of the series, if not all of the series. You know when he catches it, he’s just trying to do a nice job of making him work. LeBron’s trying to make him work every time he touches the ball.’’

Pierce said his offensive production — or lack of it — is not the key factor to the Celtics trailing two games to one in the series, but he acknowledges he has to improve his offensive production.

“I’ve got to start playing better,’’ said Pierce, who is shooting just 30.9 percent against the Cavaliers (13 for 42).

Last night, nothing seemed to work. The Celtics were down, 36-17, after one quarter and 65-43 at the half, which seemed to validate Pierce’s contention that even if he had been scoring more, the outcome wouldn’t have been much different.

“We let our guard down,’’ said Pierce. “We had to come out with a better sense of urgency. We weren’t aggressive. They got everything they wanted. It was embarrassing losing at home like that.’’

Pierce and the Celtics can change that perception quickly with a better effort tomorrow afternoon, but they’ll have to improve on the defensive end.

“We can’t win playing defense like that,’’ said Rivers. “Ever.’’

In helping knock off the Heat in five games, Pierce seemed to be everywhere, scoring, pulling down rebounds, handing out assists, and playing defense.

In three games against the Cavaliers, Pierce has yet to reach that level.

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