Pierce’s Aggression Sparks Game 3 Rout

Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce blows by Andre Igoudala for a fierce two-handed slam that fired up his team late in the first quarter.
Drew Hallowell/NBAE/Getty
Game 3 Photo Gallery

PHILADELPHIA - Paul Pierce had that look in his eyes early in Game 3.

It was nearing the end of the first quarter, the Celtics were trailing 26-22, and Pierce was struggling with his shot. He thought he’d already been fouled a few times, but he wasn’t getting the whistle.

He didn’t appear to have much lift in his legs, either.

“You could see early on he missed two layups, had no lift,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. “And then all of a sudden, he dunked the ball down the lane.”

Pierce actually dunked on the Sixers twice in a row, and did so both times with passion. The first time it was a two-handed dunk in traffic. He blew by an overcommitted Andre Igoudala, launching to the rack for the two-handed slam. Yelling out as he flushed the ball, Pierce swung on the rim in his follow-through and slapped the backboard for punctuation.

The next possession, he slid around a double-team on the left wing, drove baseline and then threw down a one-hander in the paint and let out another scream.

“Paul has been struggling scoring, but he has been doing the intangibles,” Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo said. “On those specific drives, he didn’t get some calls early in the game and thought they were fouls, so he went out and was aggressive and finished strong.”

Pierce, who finished with 24 points and 12 rebounds, tends to scream a lot when he’s fired up and dunking on people. And it tends to rub off on his teammates.

“I just wanted to be aggressive. Everything I wanted to do was going to be aggressive going to the bucket. When I’m getting limited to seven, nine shots in a game, that’s not me. I’ve got to be aggressive in everything I do in transition, on the break, in the half court,” Pierce said. “Whether I shot the ball well or not, everything I was going to do was going to be with aggression.”

Two Hands for Safety

Pierce was bellowing after rebounds and and-ones, and before you knew it, the Celtics were blowing out the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3, 107-91, taking a 2-1 series lead and retaking home-court advantage in the process.

“Our offense finally came alive and we moved the ball. We knew that’s we would have to do to score 100 points on a stingy Philadelphia defensive team,” Pierce said.

After those two dunks, he got to the line again on his next drive and buried two free throws. The flurry near the end of the first quarter was good for six of his 24 points, but perhaps more important, it was the first real sign of early-game swagger from the Celtics in the series.

And Pierce wasn’t just looking to dunk, even if those were his only two field goals at the half. He also got to the free throw line (11-of-14 on free throws), worked the glass hard, and handed out four assists.

“I want to point him out because Paul was 2-for-10 at halftime, but he had five offensive rebounds,” Rivers said. “We talked about it before, if what you do well is not there, what else are you going to do to help your team? Paul was a great example for that. I thought a lot of guys had those type of games.”

The Celtics seemed to feed off of Pierce’s visceral outburst and never looked back. They went on to outscore Philadelphia 79-48 over the last three quarters, as Rondo and Kevin Garnett joined Pierce in asserting themselves. Rondo had the team off and running in transition in the second quarter, breaking down the Sixers defense before they knew what hit them.

Baseline Past the Double Team

Meanwhile, KG was hearing voices in his head (he appeared to be talking to someone, anyway) and following their orders, which had to be, ‘dominate this game on the post.’ Thanks to Rondo’s pace, Garnett was posting up the Sixers early, often and before the defense ever had a chance to get set up. The end result? Just 27 points, 13 rebounds, and another memorable night for his legacy. It was his fifth 20-plus point game of the 2012 postseason, and as Celtics radio play-by-play guy Sean Grande pointed out on Twitter afterward, KG’s only had four such games in the last three postseasons combined.

Still, the Pierce dunks seemed to provide the emotional lift that put the Celtics in overdrive. After the game, Thaddeus Young said that the Sixers put a lot of “attention to detail on Paul Pierce and getting the ball out of his hands,” but apparently the Sixers were slightly ADD in Game 3. Or maybe Pierce caught them off guard after a very quiet Game 2 where he appeared to be severely hampered by the left knee MCL sprain.

Then again, Rivers and company know that Pierce has a knack for delivering when they need him most.

“I think that’s who he has been even when he is healthy. Paul is just a grinder. He really is. You look at him at times and you wonder, 'How is this guy getting open?' He just has great fundamentals. He never does it with speed. He just knows how to play basketball,” Rivers said. “He’s a throwback guy, that he just knows how to play basketball. We jokingly call him 'The Professional Scorer.’ ”

Jokingly? Rivers, who canceled Thursday's practice a few hours after Game 3 concluded, might be laughing, but Doug Collins can’t be. Pierce’s aggression in Game 3 was no joke.