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Pierce makes his shots count

Quality looks exceed quantity

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 17, 2010

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ORLANDO, Fla. — When Paul Pierce does not attempt a field goal in the final 12 minutes of a game, it usually means the Celtics are completely out of synch or blowing out the opposition.

Yesterday, the Celtics showed they are clearly on the same page, though a 92-88 victory over the Orlando Magic in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals does not qualify as a blowout.

Pierce scored 22 points, squeezing his production into the opening 2:33 of the game (7 points), the third quarter (13), and finally the clinching free throws with 12.9 seconds remaining.

The rest of the time, Pierce was rebounding (9), dishing out assists (5), and forcing Vince Carter out of his rhythm. Pierce could not have been much more efficient with his eight field goal attempts, and though Carter (23 points) outscored Pierce, he needed 18 shots to do so.

“From the start, Doc [Rivers] told me to be aggressive,’’ Pierce said. “I look up, I’ve only got eight shots — I know I could have been a little more aggressive. But I try to do things within the framework of the team and pick my spots. But I was able to get to the line, rebound the ball, do other things to help us win, and that was key. Just go out there and stay aggressive the whole game.’’

There is a fine line between offensive aggression and forcing up shots, and Pierce sometimes seems to be crossing that line.

This was not one of those times.

A good example occurred in the final quarter, Pierce dribbling into the lane and, instead of attempting to draw a foul, drew the defense and dished to Glen Davis for a layup and an 81-69 lead with 7:43 remaining.

That sequence was partly set up by Pierce’s third-quarter assertiveness — not that the Magic needed reminding about Pierce being a focal point. Pierce keyed a burst after Carter cut the Magic’s deficit to 45-42 early in the second half. Pierce countered with a 3-pointer 13 seconds later, then increased the advantage to 50-42 with 8:32 remaining in the third quarter. That started a 20-3 run over a 5:12 span, Pierce producing half the Celtics’ points.

“I was a little upset with the way I played in the second quarter because I had more turnovers than shot attempts,’’ Pierce said. “I was a little tentative. The key for me is just to stay aggressive. When the shot is there, take them. I thought I was passing up some shots in the second quarter. So I wanted, if the shot was there — Doc was telling me to be aggressive, take your time, the shots are going to be there, just take your time. I was able to be aggressive, whether I found guys or got to the midrange jumper.’’

The Celtics entered the fourth quarter with a 16-point advantage. Then, they seemed to start trying to play out the clock and start preparing for tomorrow night’s Game 2. In the fourth quarter, only three players did not have a shot attempt — Pierce, Celtics center Kendrick Perkins, and the Magic’s Marcin Gortat. There are few better indications of how overly dependent the Celtics used to be on Pierce’s offense and how much more varied their attack has become in the last three years.

As for the Magic, who had produced only 32 points in the opening half, they finally got untracked with a 30-point final quarter. Too late, though.

“That’s who we are, we’re a defensive team,’’ Pierce said. “We feel like we want to get up into their guys’ shooters, not allow them to get free looks. We feel like we have guys who can cover Dwight [Howard], such as Perk and Rasheed [Wallace], and Baby [Davis]. That we’ve got guys who can defend one-on-one. That allows us to get up on their shooters and be a little bit more aggressive and not allow us to open up their 3-point game. I think that’s going to be a key for us throughout the rest of the playoffs, in this series. But that’s pretty much who we are, we’re a defensive team, apply some pressure and see what happens.

“I really felt like the two days off was just enough. We’ve been playing every other day for the last week. We felt really good going into this game. The rhythm was there, the defense was there, the passing was there. We didn’t lose too much from the two days. But we’ve got to expect Orlando to be a lot better in Game 2, even though they had a week off. I don’t know if it helped or hurt them. Who knows what the outcome would have been if they had a shorter rest? Hopefully, we come into Game 2 with the same type of rhythm.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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