AP Photo/Jim Prisching
Paul Pierce and Monta Ellis got into a shooter's duel Saturday night in Milwaukee.Much like Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo, Paul Pierce knew he'd play an integral part in helping the Celtics wade through their early season struggles. And while Garnett's done his part on defense, and Rondo's worked to get everyone involved, Pierce has flourished on the offensive end, serving as the same go-to scorer he's been for his entire career.
Through six games Pierce is averaging 20.8 points per game, and though his overall field goal percentage (39.4 percent) is currently resting well below his career average (44.8), he's stepped in and made shots when the Celtics have needed them most.
Saturday's fourth-quarter shootout with Monta Ellis is perhaps the most glaring example of Pierce's scoring exploits, but his go-ahead 3-pointer with just over 2½ minutes to play against the Washington Wizards helped guide Boston to its first win of the season last weekend. And then there was Friday night. Even though the C's ultimately fell to the 76ers, Pierce was one of the only ones giving Boston a fighting chance. He scored 10 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter on 4-of-6 shooting, splashing a 3-pointer, a jump shot, a pair of layups, and a free throw during the final frame.
Saturday night saw Pierce come through with a 25-point effort against Milwaukee. The Celtics went to him early, but he found his shooting touch cold, and he entered halftime having shot just 1-of-5 from the field for six points. But he came back with 11 in the third quarter, as Boston, at one point, garnered a seven-point edge, and he followed that up with eight more in the final frame. Seven of those eight came in what amounted to a shootout of sorts with Ellis. Pierce spun in the lane for a layup, buried a jumper from the left wing, and stepped back on the right wing for a 3-pointer, with Ellis basically matching all of those looks for eight points of his own.
Other Celtics eventually got in on the scoring act, but without Pierce doing what he's always done, Boston might have entered Sunday's off day with a 2-4 record and even more questions about their inconsistent play to start the season. Head coach Doc Rivers will settle for ugly wins right now, and sometimes ugly wins can only happen when a team's best offensive player carries the club for significant stretches or entire quarters.
Before the season started, Pierce admitted he wasn't sure what his scoring requirements were going to be this year. Here's what he said back on October 25:
"I think we've got a lot of weapons. So, whether it's my scoring or my passing, I think game in and game out, I'm just going to try to get a feel with what I need to give the game. But hopefully with the weapons we've got, it'll open up the floor a lot more, especially with Jason [Terry], Leandro [Barbosa], Jeff Green, those guys. And especially with the small lineups, we're going to have a lot of small lineups at times. It's really going to open up the floor and give us a lot of space."
It wasn't the first time Pierce has talked about giving the game what it needs, whether that's more consistent scoring or a better effort on the glass. But the slower starts for some of the players he mentioned made his focus a bit clearer. Though Terry's emerged more of late and Green had his finest game of the season Saturday night, until they're consistent on a nightly basis, Pierce might have to be more aggressive with his shot selection.
As the season progresses, and -- the Celtics hope -- more players carve out defined roles, Pierce could see that focus shift a little bit, perhaps on a game-by-game basis. But through the opening six contests, he's made one thing quite clear: He can still put the ball in the bucket as well as he ever could, and it's helping the Celtics keep their heads above water.