The rundown (a quick look at postgame headlines)
Despite struggles, Pierce simply wants to win
Celtics captain Paul Pierce gave up his spot at the postgame podium in order to give Game 4 hero Rajon Rondo a little more time in the sun -- not that he needed it after a brilliant performance in leading Boston to victory in a must-win situation Sunday.
If you don't believe the torch has been passed from the Big Three to the new Big One, moments like this might suggest otherwise. Yet, despite Pierce's struggles this series, he remains absolutely convinced he's capable of winning games for the Celtics, even if it's in a supporting role.
"At the end of the day, I always say, it's not about Paul Pierce," he said. "I'm doing the little things to help this team win. We've got a number of guys playing well. I just want to play within the system. Play my part, play defense, do whatever I can to help this team win. You can't have everybody go out there and score 25 points per night. Some nights you take a back seat and go to the guys getting it done. Tonight, it was Ray [Allen], Rondo, [Tony Allen]. I respect that. It's not me pouting or looking down when I don't get the ball and I'm not shooting the ball well. It's staying in the flow of the game."
Pierce finished 3-of-8 shooting with nine points, two rebounds and two assists over 31:16. He was plagued by foul trouble, including two quick ones in the first quarter, but avoided fouling out despite picking up his fifth infraction with 5:37 to go.
Pierce even sacrificed himself with 8:41 to go in the third quarter, picking up his fourth foul by wrapping up Shaquille O'Neal to prevent an easy dunk.
"That’s what we’re supposed to do, not give Shaq a wide-open dunk," said Pierce. "It doesn’t matter if I have four or five fouls, I'm going to do it for the team."
Pierce knows people are looking at his numbers and shaking their heads. He's averaging a mere 11.8 points per game this series on just 32 percent shooting. But as long as Boston wins, he says he's OK with it.
"I’m at the point in my career where, it doesn’t matter who gets the credit, it’s about winning games," said Pierce. "At the end of the day, when my legacy is put up in the air, they'll say, 'What did he do for his team?' There's a lot of individual things I've done, but it’s about winning games, winning championships. If it's me getting nine points, a couple rebounds, taking a key charge and we won the game. That's fine with me."
Pierce heard the chants of "MVP! MVP!" while Rondo shot free throws late in the game. It's the sort of cheers he's heard at times during his own career and thinks they'll follow Rondo more in the coming years.
"He's grown leaps and abounds and it's only his fourth year. ... He's shown he's an All-Star and, the more and more he stars at this level and shows he can be a perennial All-Star, which is the next level, then maybe he can be an MVP candidate. You heard how [the crowd was] chanting that tonight. If he can sustain that type of play throughout a whole season, who knows.
"I told him in the [trainer's room], that wasn't just great, that was special. Few people in the league can put together a special performance. He's starting to grow, starting to show that on a more consistent basis. When we need a game, he can win us a game and that's what he did tonight."
Pierce's efforts are not lost on his coaches and teammates.
"Part of the reason Paul is struggling is because he’s been in foul trouble in every game," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "And it’s tough to get a rhythm when you get it going and you get two fouls, then you have to sit back down and we’re playing the minutes game with you, trying to squeeze every minute with other people. And then you’re worried, you become tentative because you’re worried about charges, you’re worried about fouls. It’s just tough. But you take one for the team, and sometimes that may be guarding LeBron, is taking one for the team. And I think Paul’s doing a terrific job of that.”
Added Kevin Garnett: "Some players are not going to have these series that they’re expecting. Paul’s presence and the fact that he is aggressive is a big plus for us. The fact that he is being aggressive, making plays. As long as he is not out there relaxing and being complacent, we are going to need him to be aggressive regardless of what his stat line is. He is going to have to be aggressive.
"When he is aggressive like that, he puts pressure on the defense, which makes it easier for all of us when he is doing that. On defense it's him continuing to communicate to everybody else out there on the floor. The small things are the things that you all don’t see when we are out there. He’s talking about the schemes that we have, the rotations that we are going to switch or not. All those things are small, but they make the difference."
Through it all, Pierce still believes he'll win a game for Boston soon. Until then, he's happy filling his role.
"I'm going to have a game where I'm going to be a big part of a big win for us," said Pierce. "I know that's going to come. But that's nothing to force. This is what I've got to do. I've got to do what I need to do to help this team win. There's going to be a night they're going to need me to score, but tonight wasn't that night."
Loose balls: All about Rondo's dominance
* Cavs coach Mike Brown on if Rondo's rebounding angered him: "Oh yeah, it does. We are going to look at it, we’re going to look at his rebounding capabilities. Now he had four offensive rebounds, I think, and 14 defensive rebounds. We obviously weren’t making shots, shooting 40 percent from the field and he’s long and he’s active, so he did a heck of a job on that end of the floor. But in that second half, we can’t give up the type of offensive rebounds that we gave up especially around that free throw line area, elbow area or the 50-50 balls.”
* LeBron James on Rondo's 'uniqueness': "He’s really unique. You have a guy that’s 6-1, but he has like a 6-9 wingspan, and he plays much bigger than he looks because of his long arms. His speed and quickness, his ability to just play the game. He knows how to play the game and he exploits any, if you mess up on a coverage he’s going to exploit it or get someone else involved. He's an unbelievable talent and a rare talent we have in this league with the size and the speed that he has.”
* Rivers on Rondo's minutes: "We had worked on a lineup without Rondo to give him three or four minutes each half, so we could take him down to the 42-minute, 40-minute mark. Unfortunately, the lineup that we worked on, they all had four fouls. It’s tough because the guys are guarding LeBron. Ray [Allen], Paul and Tony, I thought they all did a very good job on him. But the fouls were mounting for us. And it’s an issue; it’s a concern for us.”
* Rondo on Tony Allen's layup with James chasing: "[James is] always chasing me down, he’s had a lot of Top 10 plays and blocks on my layups, so I knew that situation. I think what they try to do is, Mo tries to run the guard down and slow him up and that enables LeBron to get his timing together. I knew exactly on that play he was coming, I saw it out of the corner of my eye when I started to break, Baby made a great pass. I told the guys in the huddle to continue to run with me because they were trying to block my shot in the first half and I wasn’t converting and I would get the ball to the rim and they were able to get the offensive rebound. On that particular play, I knew LeBron was coming, I had to sell it as if I was going to lay it up and he jumped, I made the pass and Tony finished the play.”
* KG on Rondo's performance: “Rondo, this is quite a stat line -- one that I haven’t seen in a long time. I told you that he was getting better. You see it in practice, you see what he puts in to it. I am always in his ear telling him loose stuff, but the kid wants it, he wants it bad. He makes things easy, to be honest. He’s driving, putting pressure on the defense. He is very smart. He knows when to stop and go. He knows when to pick up speed. He knows when to slow it down, call sets. This game is just a stitch in his maturity. It’s a great win for us, but overall, this is a hell of a stat line.”
Big Baby on how TA, bench sparked the Celtics to triumph
Celtics super subs Glen Davis and Tony Allen were just doing their jobs when they sparked Boston's second-half run -- a 12-0 burst that spanned into the fourth quarter after Cleveland rallied from a double-digit deficit in the third quarter.
Brown lamented his team's lack of bench production.
“Obviously, we didn’t get the point production that they did from our bench. But Tony Allen impacted the basketball game, I don’t think he -- I could be wrong, but I don’t think he hit a jump shot tonight -- but he beat us backdoor for layups, he beat us in transition for layups, and he beat us for some hustle points for layups. We can’t afford to let him go 6-for-7 from the field and impact the game the way that he did. So you've got to give him credit, he did a terrific job moving without the ball, being tough, active, physical and running in transition for those layups."
Click HERE to read more on the bench's play in Boston's Game 4 win.