Knowing his team needed to regain the missing confidence, swagger and intimidation it once had in spades, Pierce held a very rare pregame press conference before the game against Charlotte. (WEEI)
Acting the part of a vocal captain, Paul Pierce, speaking to the media before Wednesday’s game, had a clear message for his Celtics teammates who might be bored with the regular season.
“I don’t have that mindset,” Pierce said. “If some players feel that way, then I think it’s shame on them. That’s what the regular season is about, is building for the playoffs. We haven’t been a team that has proved we coast during the season and turn it on in the playoffs. There’s no excuses. This is the build-up for the playoffs. You have to start playing well now.”
Pierce compared his team to a boxer, training to get ready for a fight. Boxers, he said, spar and get in shape for months leading up to the big fight. For the Celtics, the playoffs are the big fight, and the rest of the season will be nothing but conditioning and sparring, preparation for the big battle.
Pierce’s pregame chat clearly showed his desire to end the drought today, right now. Just like Larry Bird many moons ago, Pierce went to the press to voice his opinions about his struggling team. He knew his words would have a greater meaning if he spoke them to the world, in a way he rarely does. Communicating to the press, when he normally doesn’t do so before a game, showed his team he meant business. But he didn’t have McHale to back his words up and make them actions.
Instead, Pierce did that himself. In the third quarter, with the Celtics up twelve points, Pierce got into a little spat with Stephen Jackson. In and of itself, it was no big deal. Jackson is a notorious hothead, so getting under his skin doesn’t take too much.
After Pierce’s pregame speech, though, it didn’t take a genius to realize he was making a point. Doing it against Jackson, a well-known tough guy with a short fuse, was probably by design. Getting into an altercation with Boris Diaw just wasn’t going to cut it. Pierce had to find the baddest mo’fo Charlotte had to offer, and get into it with him.
Pierce’s jostling with Jackson was small, and arguments like that can certainly be unplanned, as competitive juices get flowing and tempers flare. But I find it hard to believe that it’s a coincidence that Pierce declared the need for Boston to turn things around and then “disrespected Stephen Jackson as a man” a couple hours later.
Nope, I believe Pierce knew exactly what he was doing. Just like McHale had with his clothesline of Kurt Rambis, Pierce was setting a message: The big, bad, intimidating Celtics are back. No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Exactly three and a half minutes after Pierce’s technical foul, Boston’s 12-point lead was 22. For those keeping track, that was a 13-3 run in less than four minutes. Pierce’s little tiff with Jackson was a spark that helped propel Boston to its best home performance in months.
After the game, Pierce denied saying anything too bad to Jackson (“I was just saying ‘Good D, Ray’.” …Sure you were, Paul.), but admitted he’d like his teammates to follow in his chippy footsteps. (Boston Globe)
“I think we need to do that more,’’ Pierce said of imposing his will. “That’s who we are truthfully. We’re a team that usually intimidates the other team, pushes them around, talk trash. You guys know, that’s who we are and I think we have to be that way.’’
It remains to be seen whether Pierce’s words and actions will help the Celtics return to being a contender but, for one night at least, the Celtics exhibited the fight and moxie that helped make them so great in the first place. And you better believe it had a whole lot to do with Pierce.
Pierce had a great game — 27 points, 4 assists — but his biggest contributions had to do with something very different than just numbers on a box score. For last night, Paul Pierce the captain was far more important than Paul Pierce the basketball player.
“We need him,” Tony Allen told ESPNBoston. “He’s our leader. We follow our leader.”
Ain’t that The Truth.