Pierce and Jefferson Finding Groove
Thanks to injuries, Paul Pierce and Al Jefferson haven't had much time on the court together, but they are both starting to learn that they can make the game easier for each other.
Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty
BOSTON - With apologies to Joy Division, it looked like injuries, not love, were tearing Al Jefferson and Paul Pierce apart.
With Jefferson battling ankle injuries last season and Pierce just now returning from a stress reaction in his left foot, the two are finally getting a chance to mesh together. And while in the past Jefferson wasn't asserting himself and was looking to Pierce to carry the load, Pierce is returning the favor and deferring to Big Al while playing himself back into shape.
In fact, on one play in the fourth quarter of the Celtics 102-94 win over the Knicks at the Garden Wednesday night, Jefferson came up to the elbow to set a pick for Pierce on the wing, but Pierce motioned for Jefferson to get back in the low post and then fed him the ball.
"He was like, 'No, stay down there', so I'm glad he trusts me," Jefferson said. "I feel good that Paul and Doc trust in me at the end of the game."
As for Pierce, it's nice to finally have a reliable scorer in the paint he can look for at the end of the game, something he hasn't had since Antoine Walker was at the height of his powers. And while Pierce has seen glimpses of what Jefferson can do, whether it was a few moments in the 2005 playoffs against the Indiana Pacers or just in a recent practice, it's a relief to know that he can do it consistently in games.
And while the Celtics have often looked for Jefferson at the start of games, it's only recently that they've been able to go to him for offense in crunch time, a role previously exclusive to Pierce.
"He just takes pressure off of me," Pierce said. "When I can sit there and take about four, five, six, seven, eight possessions off in a row knowing that you have a guy who can put the ball in the hole, and the way he was going, I just kept giving it to him and feeding off him."
Jefferson finished with game-highs of 26 points and nine rebounds, and he notched nine points (4-6 FGs), three rebounds and two assists and a block in the fourth quarter after the Celtics had surrendered their 20-point first half lead.
Still, with the game very much in question, there didn't seem to be any confusion about where the Celtics wanted to attack.
"I like playing with him. He's a go-to guy for me down in the post," Pierce said of Jefferson. "Nothing is easier for a swingman who puts the ball on the ground or shoots the three than a post guy who can draw attention when they swing the ball to the post. It just makes my life easier when you've got a defender running out at me. I make his life easier when he knows that my man isn't going to help off me and double-team him. It makes for a good combination."
It's a combination that hasn't had much time to flourish, but with just under two months to play in the season, Pierce and Jefferson will have time to figure out how to play with each other. Pierce will figure out where Jefferson likes the ball, and get a better sense of when Jefferson has established an advantage in the post.
Meanwhile, Jefferson is still learning his opponents around the NBA, and figuring out how to attack the other bigs around the league, something he says he's spent more time focusing his attention on this season. But perhaps the biggest thing Jefferson is realizing is how much easier the game becomes when he's no longer the focal point of defenses. When Pierce was out of the lineups, opposing teams started their gameplan with stopping Jefferson.
It's not that simple anymore.
"I never missed Paul until he was gone," Jefferson said. "I realized the pressure he was going through every night, when he was seeing double teams. I'm glad to have him back, because he takes pressure off me. You can't really double team me if you're going to leave him open, and you can't double team [Pierce] because he makes great decisions with the ball."