Pierce Still Working His Way Back
Paul Pierce is still working his way back to 100%, but for the meantime he's getting by on experience and guile.
WALTHAM - Since returning from his stress reaction injury, Paul Pierce has averaged 22.8 points per game. That's not too shabby for a guy who's still playing himself back into shape, but he's not quite where he wants to be, either.
Pierce is still trying to get the lift back in his legs, which has kept him from being a regular rebounding threat. His lateral movement isn't where he'd like it, limiting him on the defensive end, and a few of his jumpers have been blocked or changed because he's not elevating over the defense or getting into his shot as quickly as normal.
That said, when you check the box scores, he's still been effective on the offensive end while he works to get his body back into NBA shape. And while his overall scoring has been impressive, here's another leading indicator: he's getting to the free throw line with greater regularity (22 FTAs over his last two games), a staple of Pierce's game when he's at the height of his powers.
While he didn't offer any arbitrary percentage estimates of where he's at today, Pierce knows he's getting closer.
"I'd say another week. The last two games I've really been feeling good, I played 41 minutes last game and I felt pretty good," Pierce said when asked to give an estimate on when he'd be back to 100%. "I felt through the whole West Coast trip that the game was going to fast for me."
Thankfully, Pierce can feel himself catching up, thanks to a little extra effort off the court. He compared it that first week in the summer after the season's over and he's get back in the gym for the first time.
"I'm starting to pick it up, I'm getting my legs under me and getting some extra running in here," Pierce said. "I'm doing a better job of getting off the floor, and I'm moving laterally a lot better. As long as I continue to work hard and put in the extra work, I'm not going to worry about it. It's going to come."
So what's the secret to putting up near-Paul Pierce numbers when he's not at full Paul Pierce strength?
"Nine years in the league, experience and knowing the game," Pierce said.
Meanwhile, Pierce said he's seeing signs of the play the team showed before his injury knocked him out for 24 games. Even if he's not playing up to his own standards, his presence alone gives the team a lift.
"I think what I'm able to do is instill confidence in those guys," Pierce said. "It's like when the captain goes down on your ship, who's there to steer the boat. The rest of the sailors are used to playing their roles, but that's not their job. Now that I'm back, these guys have gained a lot of confidence in themselves. Not that they didn't have it before, but they know what it means to have me on the court to help them out."
Continuing with is nautical analogy, Pierce's consistency has not only proved to be a life raft for some of the young guys lost at sea, but he's a compass for the Celtics youngsters to follow as well. With regard to Gerald Green, who flashes brilliance one night (21 points vs. the Knicks) and disappears the next (0 points in his Houston homecoming), Pierce says he remembers what its like to be the third or fourth option in the offense, but Green needs to focus himself on being "solid" every night and can't afford to have occasional mental lapses.
"I told him to be star or just to be a starter in the NBA, you've got to start building that consistency. You can't have too many high peaks and low valleys in your game. You want to keep a steady game and be solid. That's what it's going to take for him to be solid."