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Paul Pierce expected a Celtics victory, even after fouling out

By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / May 27, 2012
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This game unfolded like a difficult construction project. And so brick by brick, the Celtics managed to assemble an 85-75 victory over the Sixers at TD Garden to win their second-round series in seven games.

It was not exactly a show house, but it will have to do. And it earned the Celtics a matchup with the powerful - and rested - Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference finals.

Neither team shot well Saturday night, which left it to the top players to fight through the commotion and find a way to the basket.

The Celtics, who shot 42.5 percent for the game, weren’t getting the points they needed from their captain Paul Pierce and then suddenly, he was sitting on the bench with no more chances. Though Pierce started the game with a jump shot and a pair of free throws, he was quickly smothered by the Philadelphia defense. By halftime, he had 7 points on 2-for-6 shooting from the field, 3 for 3 at the foul line.

Pierce had to put up with Philadelphia’s double teams throughout the contest. He carried four fouls into the fourth quarter and with 4:16 left in the game, and the Celtics clutching a tenuous 3-point lead (71-68), Pierce fouled out. He had 15 points (6 for 14 from the field, 3 for 3 from the line), and nine rebounds when he sat down.

But the game was not finished.

“I was very disappointed,’’ Pierce said. “No one goes up there to try to foul out, especially when it’s clear my team needs me.

“But I understood I was put into situations where, the previous two fouls before that, I felt like I had to take them, and I didn’t want to give up any easy buckets. At the end of the day, it’s all for the team. Coach is always saying give yourself up for the team and that’s what I tried to do.’’

In Pierce’s absence, Rajon Rondo took over the game, first driving around a Kevin Garnett pick to score on a layup, then draining a long-range shot that was ruled a 2-pointer and a deep 3 to keep the Sixers on their heels. Then he went to the line and dropped in a pair.

The damage was done. As a raucous full house roared, it sure felt like Rondo had nailed down the win.

“I was thankful he was able to step up,’’ Pierce said, “Be aggressive, knock down a couple of big 3s, get to the bucket.

“He smelled it, how close we were. He was able to take over the game with the scoring and it was just phenomenal to watch. Great work.’’

Maybe not such fun for Sixers coach Doug Collins, who figured that when Pierce fouled out, his team was looking good.

“We thought we had a great chance to win,’’ said Collins, “and then Rondo made some big plays.’’

Pierce, who has been playing this postseason with a sprained MCL, said he felt great.

“This was one of the tougher defensive series I’ve ever been a part of,’’ said Pierce. “The way they guarded me, the way they took me all over the floor.’’

Pierce said that the close attention he drew from the Sixers would be good for the Heat series. He is expected to match up against powerful LeBron James.

“I think this is really preparing me for Miami,’’ he said, “and some of those things they might try to do on me. So mentally and physically, I’m ready.’’

“Every game is a challenge,’’ said Pierce. “The way Philly played in this series, my hat’s off to them. It sure didn’t seem like they were an eight seed, the way they played.’’

But Pierce said the Celtics’ victory was no surprise.

“I expect it,’’ he said. “Truthfully, that’s the way I look at things. I expected us to be here. Probably a lot of you didn’t, but that’s why a lot of you are wrong.’’

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