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Pierce rallied troops early

He puts up best numbers of series

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / May 8, 2011

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Before Rajon Rondo turned a gruesome arm injury into an inspirational event for the Celtics last night, Paul Pierce was leading his teammates.

In the seconds before Rondo tumbled to the floor and dislocated his elbow, Pierce was on the floor scrapping for a loose ball. It was one of the many ways he distanced himself from a slow start in this series. Pierce poked the ball away from LeBron James and dropped to the floor to gain possession. The Celtics ended up with possession and Kevin Garnett sank a hook shot to give the Celtics a 60-50 lead with 7:25 left in the third period.

Just 23 seconds later, Rondo was rolling around in pain. Rondo headed toward the locker room with an injury that looked as if it may end his season, but Pierce’s presence provided stability. When the Heat inched closer, Pierce was there with a driving layup to add to the lead, or to feed passes to Garnett.

“I thought Paul Pierce set the tone in the beginning with just the force that he was playing with,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “It was what we have been talking about. Miami has played with force and that’s what they should do, but we hadn’t. And today there was a stretch where both teams played with force, and I was fine with that. But I thought Paul set the tone for our entire team to start the game. I thought that was a great message for the entire team.’’

The night would go down as one of Pierce’s better performances of this series with 27 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists. He played 40 minutes 39 seconds and converted 5 of 7 3-pointers in the 97-81 win, the Celtics’ first victory of this series.

After the Celtics dropped the first two games of the Eastern Conference semifinals to Miami, Pierce was among the players disappointed in their overall performance. In Game 1, Pierce acknowledged his emotions got the better of him as he was ejected with 7:00 to go in the fourth quarter in the 99-90 loss. He was held to 19 points in Game 1 and 13 points in Game 2.

But in Game 3, Pierce scored 10 of the team’s first 14 points, giving the Celtics a 14-7 lead. Pierce was draining 3-pointers and was getting to the line for free throws.

He also contributed to the defensive effort on James, keeping him scoreless from 3-point range (0-3) and holding him to a series-low 15 points (6 of 16 from the field). James also had four turnovers in his nearly 43 minutes.

Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said the effort on James may have contributed to his off night.

“First half, I think he was making the adequate reads offensively and we were moving the ball, even through their pressure once we survived that initial burst,’’ he said. “We had 13 assists in the first half, and their pressure in the second half got us away from that.’’

The defensive effort helped the Celtics accomplish what they needed on offense.

“[Last night] was a blueprint,’’ Rivers said. “It’s no coincidence when we got stops we started scoring and getting breaks and easy shots.’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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