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Knee injury couldn’t keep Pierce off floor

By Mark Blaudschun
Globe Staff / May 7, 2012
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Saturday was a day of rest for the leg-weary and drained Celtics, who earned a tough, 90-84 overtime win over the Hawks in Game 3 of their playoff series Friday night.

On Sunday, during a shootaround in preparation for Game 4 at TD Garden, Paul Pierce injured his left knee in a freak accident, which left the Celtics captain and the squad concerned that injuries could once again wreak havoc with Doc Rivers’s rotation.

But this time, at least, everything was fine in Celtic land following a 101-79 victory, giving Boston a 3-1 series and a chance to eliminate the Hawks in Atlanta Tuesday night.

The game was over by halftime as the Celtics built a 64-41 lead, which allowed Rivers to empty his bench, with all 13 players getting at least six minutes of action.

More significantly, the rout allowed Rivers to send veterans such as Kevin Garnett and Pierce, who had averaged more than 40 minutes per game, to the bench early.

Pierce came out of blocks in full sprint mode, scoring 18 of his game-high 24 points in the first half. He made 8 of his first 11 shots, including two long-range 3-pointers to put his club firmly in control early in the proceedings.

Pierce played only 3:36 of the second half simply because the Celtics didn’t need him as their lead grew to 37 points. More importantly, Pierce felt his knee had survived the shootaround injury as well as could be expected.

“I tripped over somebody’s foot and had to sit out the last half of the shootaround,’’ said Pierce. “And tonight I just kind of reaggravated it when I came up off the screen with Josh Smith right there. It’s a little sore right now, so Doc just wanted to take precautions especially when we had such a big lead.’’

And it was more than a little bit of a concern for the Celtics as they monitored the captain’s early movements in the game.

“I was worried about it stiffening up on me,’’ said Pierce, who kept loose on an exercise bike when he wasn’t on the floor. “There was some concern that if it stiffened up on me, I wouldn’t be able to come back in the game. That’s why I went over and got on the bike there when I came out of the game.’’

Whether it was the condition of the knee or opportunities that presented themselves, Pierce changed his offensive profile, taking the ball and driving to the basket more than firing away from long range.

“Paul, I thought, took it too deep in the last game,’’ said Rivers. “So tonight he went to the in-between game over and over early on. First play, we got him a layup, and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between jump shooters in the league. And he did that. He knew that they were trapping. He knew that they were coming at him. And we talked, ‘If you go quick, one, two, dribble, pull-up jump shot, you know take it.’ And he did that. And then he got the three going, he was just on fire.’’

Rivers left the shootaround Sunday morning thinking Pierce wouldn’t play much, if at all.

“When I left the shootaround, I probably thought he was not going to play,’’ said Rivers. “And Eddie [Lacerte, the trainer] said, ‘Let’s see, let’s give it a try and see how he feels.’ I talked to him right before the game. I asked him, ‘What do you think.’ And he said, ‘Well, let me just try to warm up and see how I feel.’ It’s amazing. Honestly, when he went down, it didn’t look good. So the fact that he could come in and play and then play the way he played was great.’’

Neither Rivers nor Pierce knows how Pierce will feel Monday morning or whether his knee will stiffen up or whether he will be able to even play Tuesday night.

“I have no idea,’’ said Rivers. “You know, with a couple of guys, actually three of them, we literally don’t know. So, we’ll find out.’’

Pierce was philosophical about his knee. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, so you never know,’’ he said.

Mark Blaudschun can be reached at blaudschun@globe.com.

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