Captain Clutch works overtime

BOSTON -- With his team on the brink of extinction on Sunday against the Denver Nuggets, Paul Pierce had no choice but to keep the ball for himself.

With Boston down three with 18 seconds remaining in the second overtime, Pierce held the ball and watched the desired options on the play dry up before shuffling a quick pass over to Jeff Green, getting it right back and facing up on Denver's Andre Miller. Pierce's isolation plays have been criticized heavily this season, but with the smaller Miller on him, he didn't hesitate to start toward the left wing, rise up and bury the game-tying 3-pointer with five seconds remaining that propelled Boston into a third extra session and an eventual 118-114 victory.

"Doc (Rivers) wanted to go for a quick two," Pierce said. "They switched and so the quick two wasn't there and then the next look was Jason (Terry) coming off the pick. That wasn't there, and so at that point we had to get a 3-point shot up and I had a smaller guy on me, I knew I could get a good look. I thought he would probably foul me (with one to give), but he didn't, and I was able to drain it."

Kevin Garnett was quick to add, "By the way, (Pierce's) shot on Andre Miller -- I've seen him hit some big shots -- that was unbelievable."

Pierce finished Sunday's win with a monstrous 27-point, 14-rebound, 14-assist triple-double -- Rajon Rondo would be proud -- over a season-high 54:11 of floor time, further defying the age-old idea that his age should be preventing performances like these. But with Rondo not returning this season, Pierce has fully embraced the playmaker role for these Celtics, having routinely hauled in double-digit rebounds and points since Rondo's departure with a torn right ACL, while seeing a noticeable uptick in his assists as well.

Sunday's triple-double was Pierce's second since Rondo went down, and even with four of his teammates scoring at least 13 points and hitting numerous clutch shots, he still found himself as the heart of one of Boston's most convincing wins of the season.

"Roles expand (with Rondo out)," Pierce said. "I know what I'm capable of, but when you have a guy like Rondo, not as much is needed from me because you have another guy who can do so many things also. So I think with him out, the roles change, where I'm going to be more of a facilitator for this ball club, and it's got to come from not only me, it's got to come from a number of guys. You see other guys being able to step up and they're scoring more. So it's not only me, it's everybody whose roles change and have to do more with the injuries that we have."

Had All-Star voting been delayed another few weeks, Pierce would have been an even more difficult omission than he already was from the coach-voted reserves. Over his last five games -- all Celtics victories -- he's averaged 19.8 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists. If voting was still open, Rivers thinks his captain would be a lock for one of the final spots.

"He’s been unbelievable," Rivers said. "He’s played himself on the All-Star team, except people have voted already. That’s how good he’s playing for us. He’s doing everything."

Pierce has shouldered many responsibilities for the Celtics of late. If they need rebounding, he crashes the boards; if they need better ball movement, he helps find open teammates; and if they need to be bailed out with a clutch 3-pointer? Well, he can still do that too.