Room to maneuver
Doc Rivers and Lawrence Frank were having dinner Thursday night and naturally the conversation centered around basketball and last night’s game in which Rivers’s Celtics would meet Frank’s Pistons.
The main topic was the status of Celtics captain Paul Pierce, who missed the first three games of the season with a bruised right heel.
“I felt bad because I took Lawrence out to dinner and he said, ‘Is Paul playing?’ ’’ said Rivers with a laugh. “I said there’s no chance.’’
Pierce, of course, thought just the opposite. There was almost no chance that he was going to sit out another game, particularly with the Celtics at 0-3 entering their home opener.
The only debate was whether Pierce would start the game or come off the bench and work his way into the flow.
Pierce got the start and the Celtics romped to a 96-85 win in a game that was basically settled by the end of the third period, when the Celtics broke from a 50-43 halftime edge to a 25-point lead.
By that time, Pierce was back on the bench, having logged most of his 23 minutes in a 12-point, five-assist effort. Pierce also had a couple of 3-pointers that got the Garden crowd in a festive mood as they waited to see some signs of success and progress in a season that is less than a week old.
“Just having Paul on the floor, the space is so different,’’ said Rivers.
“Paul changes the game for them,’’ said Frank, who spent last season next to Rivers on the Celtics bench as an assistant coach. “I know he has only practiced once this whole year, but you know what he is capable of doing.’’
Everybody does, including teammates Kevin Garnet and Ray Allen, who at times looked a little lost without Pierce during losses to New York, Miami, and New Orleans.
“The scoring overshadows the small things that he does,’’ said Garnett. “He has a very, very high basketball IQ and he’s very talkative on the court. He knows how to play.’’
Pierce did not hide his satisfaction.
“It felt good to get out there with my teammates,’’ he said. “I just have to get in shape for these games.
“I was expecting to be me. I don’t settle for anything less. I did what I could do as much as I could. I just play the way I play.’’
Pierce said his heel feels fine.
“I think the rest of my body is more sore than anything,’’ said Pierce, who came out in the third quarter after his two 3-pointers helped break the game open. “I just wanted to be aggressive.’’
The original plan was for Pierce to play in small stretches as he got his game legs. But after the first five minutes he looked to Rivers on the bench with a smile, indicating he wanted to stay in the game.
“I was having too much fun,’’ said Pierce. “It’s going to take me a little time to get back in pretty good game shape.’’
The Celtics won’t have much time for rest. They fly to Washington today for a home-and-home series that starts tomorrow.
Rivers saw a difference in the way the Celtics moved the ball around last night. “I just thought the New Orleans game - whatever the reason - the ball stuck in everybody’s hands,’’ he said. “Everybody was trying to win the game by themselves. And that never will be who we are.’’
With Pierce back in the rotation, the Celtics’ identity was much more clearly defined last night.