By Peter F. Stringer
May 7, 2012
BOSTON - Paul Pierce was surrounded by a throng of media against a door in the Celtics locker room on Sunday, and he had already taken enough questions for one night. Celtics PR Coordinator Brian Olive loudly said, “Thank you, Paul,” a terse signal to reporters that he was done answering questions, intended to allow Pierce to make his getaway.
Paul Pierce played less than 17 minutes, but he did a full game's worth of damage in Game 4, helping give the Celtics a 3-1 series edge.Brian Babineau/NBAE/GettyGame 4 Photo Gallery
As microphones dropped and TV cameras pulled away from the huddle, a few undaunted reporters tried to sneak in one last inquiry. Pierce smiled, retreating to the trainer’s room, parroting Olive, repeatedly saying, “Thank you, Paul...thank you, Paul...”
Doc Rivers was likely thinking the same thing.
“When I left shootaround, I probably thought he was not going to play,” Rivers said after the 101-79 Game 4 win over the Atlanta Hawks. “(Trainer) Eddie (Lacerte) said, ‘Let’s see, let’s give it a try and see how he feels.’ I talked to (Pierce) right before the game; I asked him ���What do you think?’ And he said, ‘Well let me just try to warm it up and see how I feel.’”
If Pierce was hurting when he took the floor at game time, he did a masterful job concealing it. Only those in the inner sanctum at morning shootaround knew that Pierce had injured his knee while tripping over a teammate earlier in the day, and while it didn’t end up stopping him from taking the floor, it did remove him from the game with 5:45 left in the first half. Pierce bumped knees with Josh Smith near the Hawks basket to re-aggravate the injury, and he retired to the locker room with the medical staff in tow.
Pierce only played a shade less than 17 minutes in Game 4, but his brief effort was about as efficient as they come. The Captain hung 24 points on 10-for-13 shooting before leaving the game in the third quarter with a sore left knee.
“The first play we got him a layup and then he got a lot of in-between jump shots, which I think he may be one of the best in-between players in the league,” Rivers said, noting that Pierce was killing the Hawks on his quick pull-ups. “And then he got the three going. He was just on fire.”
It’s a shame his night got cut short, because Pierce had all his pitches working. While he made his living at the free-throw line in Game 3, he killed the Hawks with just about every shot in his arsenal in Game 4. Pierce did plenty of damage early, scoring 18 of his points in the first half, staking the Celtics to a 51-29 lead that buried the Hawks before they even knew what happened.
He returned to the game to start the third quarter, just long enough to drain a few more 3-pointers, but left the floor after just 3:36 of playing time and ended up riding an exercise bike in front of press row, winking and waiving at fans while they scrambled to take an odd photo of Pierce getting in some cardio to stay loose.
“You don’t want to really sit down or let it get stiff. That’s why I went over and got on the bike there when I got out of the game,” Pierce said. “If it had stiffened up on me I probably wouldn’t have had a chance to come back.”
But by the time Pierce was channeling Lance Armstrong, his services were no longer required; the game was well in hand. Rajon Rondo, who posted five assists in the first 4:04 of the game, spent the night dissecting the Hawks defense, serving up 16 assists, and the lead hovered between 20 and 30 points throughout the second half.
Meanwhile, the Celtics defense, which has now held Atlanta to 38.5 percent shooting over the first four games of the series, was strangling the Hawks’ attack yet again. Garnett told reporters that the team’s communication on the floor was “dialed in,” and while he stopped just short of comparing the team’s defense to that of the revered 2007-08 squad that won it all, he was in a unique mood after the game. He compared Ray Allen’s missed free throw to the Super Moon and spoke metaphorically about Pierce.
"Paul was in the zone today,” Garnett said after the game. “Nothing more, nothing less. The zone."
Hawks coach Larry Drew remarked that the Celtics overwhelmed his team in the opening minutes, saying that they’d beaten Atlanta in “every phase of the game.” His team did not respond well to the pressure, and once the Celtics were ahead, the outcome was never in doubt.
With another practice canceled, the Celtics’ only order of business for Monday is getting some rest and taking a business trip down South for Game 5.
“You don’t want to give a team any confidence. You've got to go down to Atlanta with the right mindset,” Pierce said.
“You don’t want to bring it back to Boston because anything could happen.”