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Oh, captain

Posted by Gary Dzen, Boston.com Staff  May 21, 2008 12:19 AM

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It’s become a Paul Pierce love-fest around the Garden recently. And give the man his due. He’s earned the praise of late.

Pierce out-dueled LeBron James Sunday night, pouring in 41 points as the Celtics eliminated the Cavaliers in Game 7 of the conference semifinals. Battered and bruised from battling the league’s most physical player, Pierce told the media he felt like he’d been in a fight.

After 48 hours of ice and massage, Pierce said he felt OK before tonight’s game.

"I didn't think I would feel this way before the game, especially after that Game 7," he said. "But I've been doing the things necessary to get me back on the court so I'll feel fresh."

Teammate Kevin Garnett said Pierce's secret to success is not as simple as ice and massage.

“What he's not telling you is he gets his work done every day when he's hurt,” said Garnett. “Whether he's beat up, whether he's damn near walking on one leg, he gets his routine. Y'all don't get to see the real professional behind the scenes.

"The things he does on the floor don't surprise me. You see him work on it every day. He's probably one of the strongest mental players in the league. He's able to, for some reason, lock in a zone there and get his work done and come in today and carry it over to the floor. And not a lot of players can do that in this league.”

Kendrick Perkins also had some kind words about Pierce.

"You could tell Paul’s energy level was through the roof," said Perkins. Every time he is like that, he’s hard to stop. He's really one of the underrated players in this league. Not too many people were screaming 'Paul Pierce is a superstar' until he dropped the 41 the other night, but I've known he is a superstar for a long time. He’s on the stage now and he’s shining.”

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