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A turning point for Pierce

He takes over the offense in third

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 4, 2011

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Paul Pierce had a pass-first mentality during most of the first half of last night’s 96-93 win over the Timberwolves at TD Garden. Finally, Pierce started driving, converting his first field goal with 2:04 to go in the half. Pierce then sparked the Celtics with a 15-point third quarter and totaled 23 points for the game.

“I was out there trying to make plays and I forgot that we had [Rajon] Rondo out there doing that,’’ Pierce said, “so I can go back to my customary role, scoring the ball, and that’s what I tried to do in the second half.’’

Before Pierce switched to his customary shooting mode, he received plenty of reminders from coach Doc Rivers that Rondo, who returned from a two-week absence Sunday in Toronto, was there to run the offense.

Pierce did not hit his first perimeter shot until 5:17 remained in the third quarter. He totaled 11 successive Celtic points over a 4:35 span, and in the final 3:07 of the quarter, Pierce twice made buckets with one second on the shot clock, including a basket in the lane with six seconds remaining in the third to cut Boston’s deficit to 73-70.

“I thought Paul in the first half tried way too hard to get everybody else involved,’’ Rivers said. “[At halftime] I said, ‘Paul, you no longer have to be the playmaker, we need you to be the aggressive scorer.’ ’’

There was a question about Pierce’s availability after he injured an ankle on a late dunk in Toronto.

“I was a little step slow but it’s not as bad as I thought,’’ Pierce said. “I’m just going to get treatment throughout the week and I don’t see any problems coming up.’’

Pierce acted out of character late in the opening half when he got into the lane and passed to Shaquille O’Neal, who was whistled for a 3-second violation.

“Doc wanted me to — he thought I was a little bit too unselfish passing up shots, especially when I went down the lane and had the layup and gave it to Shaq and he wound up getting the 3 seconds,’’ Pierce said. “[Rivers] kept looking over like, ‘Shoot the ball, shoot the ball.’ That’s what I do anyway, so I just tried to be a little more aggressive during the second half.

“The thing about my scoring, it’s just being more responsible. I’m not forcing things by any means. Doc knows the type of player I am and the type of shots I can get. But, at the end of the day, they’re coming within the flow of the offense, it’s not like I’m forcing things. Because shots I took in the second half, those are the same shots that I passed up in the first half.’’

Pierce, of course, has had a green light since joining the Celtics. He seldom has to be reminded.

But Minnesota had its own streak shooter, and Michael Beasley became Pierce’s defensive responsibility down the stretch. Beasley converted Minnesota’s final four field goals, three out of timeouts, the last cutting the Timberwolves’ deficit to 94-93 with 31 seconds left.

“He’s a great talent,’’ Pierce said. “A lot of people really forgot about him. He’s having a sensational year, kind of under the radar. He came in as a highly touted offensive player. It’s really rare you see a guy with his size and strength to put the ball on the ground and shoot the way he does and get to the basket with his athleticism. He was a tough cover, especially in the midrange game.

“We know how to win games. They’re still learning, just got together, so maybe that was it. I like the group they have out there, they have some solid pieces to really go forward.’’

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

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