BOSTON - In nine years in the NBA, Paul Pierce has proven that he'll take and make big shots down the stretch of a basketball game.
But are his teammates looking to him too much rather than believing in their own ability to make plays?
Celtics Coach Doc Rivers felt that may have been the case in Wednesday night's 91-87 Opening Night loss to the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets at the Garden.
"I thought our trust broke down. I thought we relied so heavily on Paul and guys stopped moving the ball. And we just can't do that," said Rivers. "Paul's a great player and we're going to get it to him every single time. But if he's not open or if he's covered, there's a second option and a third option."
Paul Pierce tried to take over the game in the fourth quarter.
Pierce certainly did his part. The Truth, who came out wearing a headband adorned with a #2 in honor of Red Auerbach, dropped 29 points and grabbed a career-high 19 rebounds in just under 40 minutes of play. In the fourth quarter alone, Pierce scored 12 points on 4-of-8 shooting (and 4-for-8 FTs) and grabbed six rebounds as he attempted to take over the game and nearly won it by himself.
But late in the game, both Ryan Gomes and Delonte West passed up open shots in the flow of the offense that they should have taken, and with Pierce drawing double and triple teams, the Celtics needed their role players to step up when they had the chance.
"We've just got to get Delonte comfortable with playing off the ball and knocking down his shots," said Wally Szczerbiak, a guy who never passes up an open shot despite struggling in the early goings with his own jumper. West, who made something of a surprise start, has been shifted from a point guard to a shooting guard and at times during training camp showed that he still wasn't used to taking the shoot-first mentality of playing at the two spot.
As for Gomes, Rivers noted that he passed up an open 16-foot jumper from the elbow late in the fourth in favor of finding Pierce under the basket. It has to be hard not to defer to Pierce when you see him flying around and tearing down every rebound on the defensive end, and the coming down on the other end and scoring in traffic. Still, Gomes said that he just felt Pierce was the better option at the time.
"You know, the type of player I am, if I see someone open I'm gonna pass it," said Gomes, who noted that Pierce "played his tail off with all of those rebounds."
Gomes conceded that he probably should have shot, but he also maintained that it doesn't matter who it is that's open - he's going to look for the best option.
"Maybe I should have looked at the basket first but I didn't. If that was Delonte, if that was Sebastian, if that was any of those guys, and I see a guy whose open and I'm open but I think we can get something better, I'm gonna give it up," Gomes said.
Sometimes, the best thing you can get is the first open shot that shows. And while Pierce won't turn down the ball in crunch time, he can understand that some younger teammates might not have the same kind of confidence he does at the end of a game.
"They've got to believe in themselves that they can win the game," Pierce said. "I don't think that's something you can practice. That's just something that's got to come with experience."