Job description weighs on Pierce
WALTHAM — Paul Pierce is working two jobs, and he’s having a hard time getting a solid handle on either one.
Pierce’s job title has always been “professional scorer’’ — clutch baskets, constant free throws, and the occasional game-winner were all a part of the gig. In the Celtics’ Eastern Conference semifinal matchup against Cleveland, the stresses of his side job — trying to somehow stop LeBron James — may be taking a toll on his main role.
After averaging nearly 20 points a night in the opening-round series against Miami, Pierce has been a ghost against the Cavs. His scoring average has dived to 12.7, he’s shooting 31 percent from the floor, and in the Game 3 loss Friday, he missed his first six shots, going 4 for 15 on the night.
“We do want to get him involved more,’’ said coach Doc Rivers yesterday. “He has to get his rhythm better. But he has a big job. Guarding LeBron is difficult and it takes a lot out of you.
“LeBron gets the ball 101 times a game. He handles the ball. He pushes the ball up the floor. He posts. So it will absolutely take something out of you. But you still have to do it on both ends.’’
Pierce has worked his way out of slumps this season. He seemed to be in a rhythm going into the playoffs, using games against Milwaukee and Chicago as postseason primers, then coming up huge in Game 3 in Miami with 32 points, including the game-winning shot.
Against the Cavs, however, he hasn’t made more than five field goals in a game. He’s had a difficult time getting to the line as well (11 attempts in three games).
“I’m not worried about P,’’ said Kendrick Perkins. “I’ve been around P a long time. I’ve seen P have a few bad nights and come back and have a 35-point night. So you just never know with P. I know he’s capable of having big games and he always steps up in big games.
“We all go through times where we struggle a little bit. His intentions are good, he wants to win, but it’s just hard for him to have a big night on the offensive end when he’s guarding the Most Valuable Player in the league.
“So we just have to do a great job of getting Paul open, make sure we get him good shots, and just help him on defense. But you know he’s not a concern.’’
“You can’t change what you’re doing,’’ Rivers said. “Obviously, we have to find a way of letting them see we’re getting fouled as well when we’re attacking. And we have to stop fouling, but we have to stay aggressive, so it’s a fine line.’’
Cleveland went to the line 13 times in the first quarter of Game 3, when it put the Celtics in a 36-17 hole they never climbed out of.
“It’s what it is,’’ Rivers said. “I felt like we were playing on the road, to be honest.’’
Rivers joked again that he would follow the lead of Cavaliers coach Mike Brown and send footage to the league.
“I’m going to do what they did,’’ Rivers said. “I’m going to start sending 40 clips. I was going to send just the whole game film in, but I thought that would take too long.’’
O’Neal went for 12 points and 9 rebounds in Game 3, not just cramming down dunks but also going over the top a couple of times for hook shots. O’Neal also handed out a pair of assists.
“I think Shaq stole Rasheed’s ‘hot tub time machine,’ ’’ Rivers said. “He was terrific. Shaq had great energy. He made hook shots, shots from the elbow. He was phenomenal.
“There were several that Perk guarded terrifically, and he made the shots. And we’ll live with those. But then there were some where he was point-blank deep and it was pretty much unguardable when he gets it there.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.