Wrong result, but Pierce remains resolute
LOS ANGELES — Paul Pierce has now won an NBA championship at home and lost one at his other home.
Growing up in southern California, Pierce cheered on the Lakers. As a professional, Pierce has been steeped in Celtic tradition, and has often said he had to win at least two championships to be considered among the franchise’s great players.
He fell short of reaching that goal last night as the Celtics lost, 83-79, to the Lakers in Game 7 of the Finals.
Pierce’s career prepared him for both the glory of 2008 and this defeat.
Pierce was humbled by his first eight seasons with the Celtics, when there seemed little hope of ever winning a title. The ’08 title was especially rewarding, the Celtics rebounding from a 24-win season. And last night’s loss was especially frustrating, since the Celtics had overcome much adversity to reach the Finals, and held the lead in the final quarter.
“It’s tough — this is the biggest game of your life, right here,’’ Pierce said. “Losing it, it’s no fun. Being around these guys, it’s tough.’’
Pierce had 18 points and 10 rebounds, his inside work crucial in keeping the Celtics ahead. But Pierce’s perimeter game was negated by the Lakers’ aggressive trapping. With Ray Allen having to defend Kobe Bryant, and Pierce being hounded by Ron Artest and the nearest Laker, the Celtics struggled to score in the final quarter.
Pierce missed a 3-point attempt out of a timeout with the Lakers leading, 68-64, then he hit a jumper with 3:45 remaining to pull the Celtics within 70-66. But that would be Pierce’s final field goal of the season. He hit two free throws to cut the deficit to 74-70 with 2:14 left, but then he had a layup blocked by Pau Gasol.
Trailing by 4 in the closing seconds, Pierce got the ball but his back was to the basket about 25 feet out, so he passed to Rajon Rondo, whose 3-point attempt was short.
“Rebounding, that was the difference in this series,’’ Pierce said. “The team that won the rebound war pretty much won the games. I thought we played solid defense throughout most of the game. But you give them missed shots, they’ve got big bodies, they’re very long, they go to the offensive boards and we just didn’t keep them off the glass all night long; even late in the fourth quarter when we needed to a stop, Pau gets an offensive rebound. And that’s tough when you’re trying to win a game and win a championship.’’
The absence of injured center Kendrick Perkins (knee) was big, said Pierce.
“We need his size, and his rebounding, and his defense,’’ said Pierce. “Perk is our enforcer, a guy who pushes guys with his body and his length, gets guys off rebounds. Could have helped us. That’s not an excuse. One game, guys we had on the floor can beat anyone in the league.
“I thought we put them to the [foul] line, I think, way too many times. That’s the difference. When you have a couple big threes, Ron and [Derek] Fisher, those guys hit big threes and they got to the line a lot, they were aggressive.’’
Pierce tried to stay positive after the game.
“I’m happy with the way we performed this season,’’ Pierce said. “There’s nothing to put our heads down about but, obviously, the goal is to win the championship.’’
As for the future of the Celtics?
“I don’t know,’’ Pierce said. “Just being around a great group of guys, resilient group of guys, you build relationships, and, unfortunately, players move on to other teams. But I’m happy with the guys I played with this year. I’d go to war with them any time. As far as next year, we’ve just got to go back to the drawing board and address some things if we want to get over the top.
“I’d like to see Doc [Rivers] back, he’s one of the great coaches in the NBA. Right now, I hope he comes back.’’
The Celtics struggled to a 50-win season, affected by adversity and injuries soon after the opening exhibition game in Hidalgo, Texas. But they rallied in the playoffs.
“We had more than our fair share of [adversity], probably, this year with the way things went, with the way we played, injures,’’ Pierce said. “Really roller coaster year, and, at the end of the day, we had a chance to win a championship, regardless of what happened throughout the season. Once the playoffs start all the records go out the door and it’s playoff basketball. We showed the type of guys we had on this team to play so hard.’’