THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Pierce sees a few hopeful signs

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / January 17, 2012
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Celtics captain Paul Pierce is not discouraged by the team’s worst start since the 2006-07 season.

“We’re going through a little adversity right now,’’ Pierce said after last night’s 97-88 loss to Oklahoma City at TD Garden, the fifth straight defeat for the Celtics (4-8). “And sometimes it’s good to go through a little adversity, just to kind of see what kind of ball club you have and just respond.’’

Pierce, who missed the preseason and the first three games of the season with a bruised heel, finally seems to have regained his form. He scored 24 points and limited Kevin Durant’s offense for much of the second half.

“I’m starting to get my legs, starting to get my basketball shape,’’ Pierce said. “I can just feel it every game. Just getting closer, just getting sharper out there, getting my timing, things like that, understanding where to be, where to cut, stuff like that. I feel it coming.’’

But Pierce also accepted some of the blame for the defeat.

“At the end of the day, none of us in here likes to lose,’’ he said. “That’s the frustrating part. From every win you can take some positives, and from losses you can take some positives.

“I think I like where we’re headed. You know, it’s just little things that are really killing us. Turnovers, obviously, are killing us. We have to keep teams out of transition, control that a little better - I think we’ll be great. But you have to go out there and do it.’’

Pierce played a major part in a fourth-quarter sequence that nearly turned the momentum in the Celtics’ favor. First, Pierce caused Durant to miss a jumper, then he hit a second-chance 3-pointer to cut the Celtics’ deficit to 78-76 with 5:22 remaining. The Celtics got a defensive stop, but then Rajon Rondo lost possession and the Thunder took an 81-76 lead on Durant’s 3-pointer with 4:42 left.

“We talked about that,’’ Pierce said of turnovers. “It seems like we go through a stretch each and every game where we have a two-minute turnover stretch. I think I’m a big reason for that. I’m overaggressive at times - that’s when we just have to take a deep breath and, when we make a good run, just make sure we take good shots.’’

Coach Doc Rivers said Pierce “went on a stretch where he tried to do too much with the ball - and those were turnovers. But I thought he fought Durant. I thought he looked so much better, offensively.’’

The Celtics’ habit of struggling in the first quarter continued, but the team showed signs of resiliency.

“I really liked the effort we had, the way we played on the glass, the way we competed,’’ Pierce said. “I said to the guys, the way we competed like that, night in and night out, you could feel it getting closer to where we want to be . . . even though we lost. They made some tremendous shots, especially from the 3-point line there, in the fourth quarter.

“The good thing is, we stay positive, we don’t point the fingers. We have a veteran group in this locker room. Each and every game, we come in here and talk about what we can do better. That’s the maturity of it. Usually teams, when they go through a stretch like this, they start pointing the finger. I’ve been a part of those groups and you know everyone wants to do it themselves - and that’s not this group. This is a group that is going to come back from this stretch and respond well.’’

And Pierce, finally, appears healthy enough to lead the way.

“I’m starting to feel a lot better, not as achy, or in as much pain as I’ve been in the past week after these games,’’ he said. “My body is starting to respond a lot better.

“We’re 12 games in now, [54] games left, plenty of time to turn this ship around. Sometimes a little adversity is great. I think we have a lot of guys who, when our backs are against the wall, we’re going to respond well.’’

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

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