Posted Jun 8 2012 11:13AM
BOSTON -- LeBron James still is writing his basketball legacy. Paul Pierce's awaits punctuation.
James has the weight of the basketball world on his shoulders. Pierce's load is shared.
James is chasing a championship ring, but he's also chasing NBA greatness and consideration among the league's immortals. Pierce has his ring and these days is all about getting his footwork right as he angles into the greatest-Celtics-ever conversation.
They've been rivals in the East since James' arrival nine years ago, but they've never been equals. The gap between what Pierce does and what James must do never has been more apparent than in Game 6 of the conference championship Thursday night at TD Garden.
James had a game to savor, a performance that will be recalled for years. He scored 45 points, made 19 of 26 shots, grabbed 15 rebounds and, in the process, grabbed the Celtics by the necks in a 98-79 throttling that only felt like two defeats in one.
Pierce, on the defensive end of that barrage (until three fouls before halftime moved him elsewhere), had a game he washed off in the shower, a performance to forget. The veteran forward scored nine points on 4-of-18 shooting -- two on 1-of-4 in the first half -- missed all six of his 3-pointers and was done before he hit 31 minutes. He spent the last 7:43 on the bench, eyes glazed over at the enormity of coming up so small in a game that meant so much.
Pierce and the Celtics get one more game, but maybe only one more. If he and they play anything like they did in Game 6, Game 7 will be a miserable way to cap Boston's five-year run of the Magnificent Three -- Pierce, Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen -- and the Rondo Kid. It was sobering enough, with the folks at TD Garden so poised to party, that this particular group might have played their final home game.
They heard a late appeal from the fans who hadn't bailed, a "Let's Go, Celtics!" send-off to Miami that was special and probably more comforting for them to focus on immediately afterward. But from the time when the wheels go up Friday, through the night and another long wait for Saturday's tipoff, their own private whispers will drown that chant.
"What more can you ask for?" Pierce said. "One game, with an opportunity to go to the Finals, on the road? This team has been about adversity all year long. Y'know, so this is not gon' be nothing new. It's been tough for us all year long to get to the point where we would be at, and why wouldn't it be tough now? Winning is hard. Trying to get to The Finals is hard. And this is as hard as it gets."
What more can folks ask for? A little more from him, frankly. Otherwise the scribbling on the white board in Boston's dressing room -- "12:30 Flt. Pack for a Week" -- needed another line. As in, "Bring Fishin' Poles."
No one is asking him to be LeBron. But people are asking him to be Paul Pierce, the guy who sized up the situation with a minute left in Game 5 and hit the dagger 3-pointer over James. Pierce, the guy who, in that slo-mo, courtbound way of his, puts defenders through hell. A guy who will find and take better shots than most of those he put up Thursday, and who will make maybe half of them.
Pierce is shooting 38.6 percent in the playoffs, 33.6 in this series. He has taken 113 shots to score 107 points. He has attempted 26 free throws but only two in Thursday's blowout.
It, understandably, must be difficult to get the right arc and spin on a shot when you're shooting it with sagging shoulders. But if James' massive start on a monster night sapped some of Pierce's spirit, he's at risk of having his eye blackened early again in Game 7. James is going through some pretty renowned small forwards this postseason -- Carmelo Anthony, Danny Granger -- and he's on the verge of rolling over Pierce on his way to a clash with Kevin Durant in The Finals.
"We've got to do a better job of getting him better shots," Boston backup guard Keyon Dooling said just before midnight. "We've got to screen better. If he's not getting shots that we'd like him to get, we've got to do a better job of getting him open.
"But Paul's been phenomenal all playoffs. Obviously, teams key on him. He has to become real resourceful as a scorer. He can score in a lot of different ways. Y'know, he'll be back. He ain't gonna leave no bullets in the chamber. He's gonna shoot it. If he gets Paul Pierce shots, he's going to shoot his shots."
Said Celtics coach Doc Rivers: "He'll bounce back. Paul is a big game player. Game 7s are the biggest that you can possibly have. ... I thought he was ready for the game. He just didn't have a great game. We don't look into it much more than that, at least I don't."
Maybe what the NBA's Most Valuable Player did in Game 6 -- all those points, that uncanny shooting -- is real and lasting, and not just another case of the emperor's new clothes in James' continuing quest for clutch. But for Boston's sake, for the Big Three-era's sake, Pierce needs to do what he can on Saturday to make sure the King can't handle the Truth.
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