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Mickael Pietrus playing helpful defense

His work on Johnson is beneficial for Pierce

Any offense is a bonus from Mickael Pietrus, who has found other ways to help the Celtics take a 2-1 series lead. Any offense is a bonus from Mickael Pietrus, who has found other ways to help the Celtics take a 2-1 series lead. (Jim Davis/Globe Staff)
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / May 6, 2012
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There are many protagonists and key role players in the Celtics-Hawks playoff series. But the actors with the most lines have been Celtics captain Paul Pierce and the Hawks’ Joe Johnson.

Going into Sunday’s Game 4, the Celtics hold a 2-1 advantage in what is turning into a shootout between Pierce and Johnson. Johnson has attempted the most shots (60) and Pierce is second (57); that is nearly a quarter of the 478 total attempts of both teams.

Johnson is shooting 35.0 percent and Pierce 35.1 percent, an indication of the ramped-up defending by both teams.

But a major difference in the series so far has been the Celtics’ ability to give Pierce a defensive break. At key points in the game, the Celtics assign Mickael Pietrus to Johnson, giving Pierce the freedom to roam defensively and get in position for transition offense.

Pietrus has been a bit player offensively; he has converted only two field goals in 64 minutes of playing time. But he has been given a major responsibility defensively.

“Obviously, you know, the offense is not going to be in my hands,’’ Pietrus said after Friday’s 90-84 overtime win. “I just try to give my team a lift, a better chance in the game, defensively. Try to bring something extra to the team.

“In the playoffs, defense is very important. I respect that. I know I can bring that. Sometimes I bring that, sometimes I’m not going to bring anything. Because we have Paul Pierce, KG [Kevin Garnett], and those guys are going to bring it. So I respect that.

“I’m going to help the team win the game. That’s why I enjoy playing with the team, rebounding, whatever. I enjoy playing with those guys, it’s a blessing being with them every day in practice.’’

“That’s why we got him,’’ said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. “The made shots are the gravy with him. He’s a terrific on-ball defender and that’s what he does. He has the ability to deny, get up into you.

“Joe Johnson, there’s not many better one-on-one offensive players in the league. And he had to guard him on an island a lot. And the fact that he was able to do a pretty good job allowed us not to have to help and rotate.

“And that’s what they wanted us to do. That’s why they had all of their shooters out on the floor.’’

Johnson scored 29 points, including the last 5 of regulation and a last-gasp drive in OT to cut the deficit to 86-84.

“You know, he’s one of the best players in the league,’’ Pietrus said. “I respect his game. At the same time, I just try and protect my jersey - the Celtics - and, you know, I just want to [limit] his touches.

“I’m not going to stop him. He’s going to score some, he’s going to miss some. I’m ready for that challenge. I like challenges.

“It’s not what he does - it’s just me putting my heart in for whatever team I play for. I just try to minimize him and try to win the game. So, hopefully, we‘re going to be better next game.’’

The Celtics did not practice Saturday. But they are preparing.

“Even though we have a day off - they call it a day off - we’re going to go to the gym and try to get some work done,’’ Pietrus said. “We didn’t play extremely well.

“Sometimes it’s going to be like that in the NBA, sometimes it’s going to be like that in the playoffs. At the end of the day, we won the game.

“We know we’re going to watch tapes and come back stronger on Sunday. It’s not going to be easy - it’s playoff time.’’

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

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