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Knicks at Celtics | Game 2

Thinking outside box

Pierce doing the little things will aid Celtics

By Julian Benbow
Globe Staff / April 19, 2011

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WALTHAM — Every so often during the regular season, typically when the Celtics were on the road, Paul Pierce would sit at his locker after a game. Sometimes he’d be in street clothes. Sometimes he’d still be in his uniform, feet plopped in a bucket of ice.

He’d have the night’s box score in his hands, inspecting the numbers. More often than not, he’d be looking for the numbers no one was noticing.

For instance, Dec. 28, after the Celtics performed a routine 95-83 operation on the Pacers at Conseco Fieldhouse, Pierce ignored his 21 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, and 8-for-14 shooting night. What stuck out instead was the zero in the turnover column.

“I had the ball in my hands the whole night,’’ he said at the time.

The Celtics’ first-round playoff matchup against the Knicks could be the type of series in which Pierce might have to continue looking for the little things on the score sheet after games.

He’ll leave his largest impressions on the series in ways that won’t show up — unless he checks Carmelo Anthony’s line for high shot totals and low percentages.

In Boston’s 87-85 Game 1 win Sunday night, Pierce missed 10 of 16 shots, an abnormally inefficient outing. However, that might have been because he was busy on the defensive end harassing Anthony, who went 5 for 18 and missed his last nine shots.

There isn’t a box score that details all that.

“I have a big responsibility,’’ Pierce said. “Guarding Melo is not an easy thing, and he’s one of the biggest keys to their team, so I have to be that way. I have to take a special responsibility on that end of the court.’’

Watching Pierce work away from the ball, his matchup with Anthony looked more like mixed martial arts. There was arm twisting, wrestling, and elbow throwing. Pierce made it impossible for Anthony to get to his favorite spots on the floor without duress.

Pierce’s 6-foot-7-inch, 235-pound frame can give and take punishment, and in Anthony (6-8, 230), he knows he’s dealing with a player who came off the same assembly line.

“He’s one of the more physical players at that position, definitely,’’ Pierce said. “I just try to get on him, put a body on him, not give him any space. Just try to challenge a lot of his shots.’’

Even when Anthony wasn’t on the floor, Pierce was aggressive away from the ball.

At one point, Pierce had to choose between guarding Toney Douglas and Chauncey Billups.

“I remember I wasn’t about to guard Toney Douglas’s little quick butt, so I rotated over to Chauncey, which was a better matchup,’’ he said.

Pierce and Anthony treated every possession like a turf war, tangling and then pushing and shoving to decide who won the real estate.

Anthony said he was confused when he was whistled for a last-second offensive foul for shooting his arm back at Pierce while trying to get free on the baseline.

The turnover set up the winning possession for the Celtics.

“It was going on the whole game, not just with me, with other guys that were posting up,’’ Anthony said. “It was some physical play down there in the post. Especially with 20-something seconds on the clock, I wasn’t expecting a call like that. It was a tough play. Especially the way that it’s been going.’’

Of course, how physical things were is relative.

“He was aggressive,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of Pierce’s second-half defense on Anthony. “If that’s being physical, then whatever. You can’t even be physical in this league anymore, are you kidding me?’’

What Rivers wasn’t concerned about was Pierce’s shooting.

“I didn’t think he had bad shots,’’ Rivers said. “I just thought he missed shots.’’

If Pierce bottles up Anthony, he’ll pull the plug on one of the Knicks’ primary sources of offense. But, as important as that might be, he doesn’t want his offensive game to go through any power outages because he’s using all his energy on defense.

“I have to be great on both sides of the ball,’’ Pierce said. “That’s the way I’m looking at this series. I have to be the scorer that the Celtics need me to be, and I have to be the defender because I’m guarding one of the premier players in the game.

“So it’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s a responsibility that I’ve been used to. It’s not going to be easy.’’

Julian Benbow can be reached at jbenbow@globe.com.

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