Pierce (34) leads Celtics to victory over Wizards
WASHINGTON - If anything, Paul Pierce increased his trade value with yesterday’s masterful and much-needed performance against the Wizards.
He was the Pierce his struggling teammates and coach Doc Rivers have waited to arrive for a few weeks now, offensively aggressive, nearly unstoppable off the dribble, and confident with his jumper.
The Celtics needed that multifaceted Pierce when the Wizards were pushing to hand Boston another disheartening loss.
Pierce single-handedly made sure that didn’t happen, scoring a season-high 34 points with 10 assists, 8 rebounds, and 3 steals as the Celtics led most of the way in a 100-94 win as they crawl toward respectability.
Before the game, Rivers said he was unsure when the real Pierce would return, but that he believed him to be making strides.
Pierce showed up at training camp in far from premium condition and injured his right heel in early workouts. Since then he has made a methodical trek back to basketball shape against a bunch of opposing thoroughbreds who have capitalized on his lack of endurance.
Pierce scored 4 points in the first quarter and it appeared he was still a few games from vintage form. But he followed that with a 14-point second quarter, also tallying 5 assists, which was helpful because Rajon Rondo missed his second consecutive game with a sprained right wrist.
And with Pierce’s production, the Celtics’ offense began resembling its usual form.
Baskets came easier. Jumpers were falling, unlike Friday night’s miserable 71-point performance against the Suns. And Pierce was the orchestrator, having a hand in 18 straight points during a fourth-quarter stretch in which the Celtics sealed the game.
“I just wanted to come in with the mind-set of being more aggressive than I was,’’ Pierce said. “I thought vs. Phoenix, I was way too passive. I’m a better player when I’m aggressive, when I’m driving the ball, when I’m getting to my midrange and getting to the bucket. I’m just a better player when I’m doing that.’’
The Celtics did not leave Washington unscathed, however. Ray Allen left the game with 6:36 left in the second quarter after rolling his left ankle trying to clear a screen by Washington rookie Jan Vesely.
Allen was uncertain whether he would play tonight against the Magic at TD Garden. X-rays were negative.
“I was joking with [Washington coach] Flip [Saunders],’’ Rivers said. “When the same guy the third time knocked him down, I asked him did they have a hit out on Ray?’’
With Allen out, Rivers gave Mickael Pietrus extensive time and he responded with 14 points in 35 minutes. Meanwhile, Brandon Bass, who will face his former team tonight, helped out with 13 points and nine rebounds, including three key offensive rebounds.
The Celtics went on a 12-6 run to begin the second half to open up a 61-46 lead, but the younger Wizards kept pushing, using the slicing drives of John Wall (27 points) and a 3-pointer by Jordan Crawford to cut the deficit to 73-69 entering the fourth quarter.
The Wizards took an 84-83 lead after a Nick Young free throw with 6:06 left in the game. But Pierce, who already had scored the Celtics’ previous 7 points, made a jumper to give Boston the lead for good. Meanwhile, the Celtics held Washington to 4 points over a 3:25 stretch and got a couple of crucial baskets from Kevin Garnett (17 points).
Without their leading assist man and top perimeter shooter, the Celtics got by with many contributions. The point guard tandem of Avery Bradley and E’Twaun Moore struggled in stretches, but Rivers said he kept the offense basic so they could make plays.
Bradley is making better progress than Moore, although he committed a game-high six turnovers. But he limited that to one in the pivotal fourth quarter.
The Celtics are 6-9, and half of their wins have come over the 2-14 Wizards. But that matters hardly at all to a team still trying to reach peak physical condition, especially Pierce.
“I’m definitely getting my legs under me; they’re getting stronger and I’m getting in game shape,’’ said Pierce, who had shot 30 percent in his previous seven games. That has a lot to do with it.
“If you don’t have preseason or practice time, it takes some time. Hopefully I can start developing a rhythm, not only with myself, but as a team . . . be consistent and win more ballgames.’’