BOSTON -- The prospect of being asked to do too much for the Celtics in the first two games of their first-round playoff series with the New York Knicks might not have been frustrating for Paul Pierce, but he likely crossed that threshold in Boston's 90-76 loss in Game 3 Friday night.
The frustration wasn't from being over-burdened with responsibilities -- as head coach Doc Rivers suggested he was during the first two games -- but from the fact that he finally had some help in Game 3 yet still couldn't produce the kind of night that Boston needed from him to get itself back into this series.
Pierce finished Friday's game with 17 points, but shot just 6-of-15 from the field, missing all four of his 3-point field goal attempts. He committed five turnovers -- his third time in three games with at least five giveaways -- finished minus-11 in plus/minus, and missed a number of quality looks at the basket that would've helped swing the game in Boston's favor.
And that's what has to be eating at Pierce the most. In a game that saw Boston's offense remain as meager as it was in Games 1 and 2 -- Boston scored just 31 points in the first half -- there was actually some semblance of balance, as Pierce was joined in double figures by Jeff Green (21), Jason Terry (14), and Kevin Garnett (12).
But none of them shot a particularly high percentage, especially Pierce in the first half, when the game slipped away from Boston. Pierce shot just 2-of-10 over the first two quarters, certainly playing a role in the Celtics' lackluster offense. He missed jump shots, he missed on layup bids, he didn't attempt a single free throw, and he missed crucial, potentially momentum-swinging, 3-pointers. Boston entered halftime facing a 47-31 deficit that it would never have a chance at overcoming.
"I just know we missed some great shots," Rivers said afterward. "Paul misses a layup, Kevin misses a layup, (Terry) misses a point-blank layup -- we missed three or four wide-open shots. And you've just got to be mentally tougher."
Pierce had to be shaking his head, though, over how easy his shots were coming. Pierce didn't have to work for his shots on Friday nearly as hard as he did in the first two games. He created space for himself on his step-back jumpers and he pulled up for rhythm 3-pointers. But the shots just wouldn't fall early, and the Celtics' offense as a whole suffered accordingly.
"Well, I thought I had some pretty good looks," Pierce said after the game. "My 3-ball hasn't really been there, but I thought I had some good looks -- looks that usually fall for me. So, I'll continue to take advantage of that. Hopefully I can knock some down on Sunday, open up the rest of my game and see what happens."
Pierce will likely be satisfied if he can garner the same kinds of looks in Sunday's Game 4, though he'll significantly aid his own cause if he can be stronger with the ball. Of the five turnovers Pierce was guilty of on Friday, four came courtesy of him fumbling the ball away or the Knicks stripping him before he could make his own move on offense. The fifth was a careless post-entry pass to Garnett that was easily picked off by the New York defense.
"The Knicks are really doing a good job on defense, trying to take us out of our offense," Pierce said. "I think our 3-point game hasn't really been there pretty much the whole series, we haven't really got to the line a ton. But we've got to figure it out. We've got to do a better job of knocking down the open shots, we've got to get to the free throw line, we've got to move the ball, can't turn it over. Tonight, too many turnovers once again. I think that's really something that's biting us."
Pierce presented himself following Friday's loss as someone who's already geared his focus toward Sunday. He attempted to shrug off his missed shots as nothing more than the ball just not bouncing his way. Pierce has been through enough postseason battles to not let his mind linger on one poor shooting effort, which is vital for Boston, as a repeat effort from Pierce on Sunday could easily cement the end of the Celtics' season.