Could Paul Pierce Also be Injured?


Apr 22

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We know this playoff series between the Bulls and Boston Celtics is close.

But consider this: What would be going on if the Celtics had Paul Pierce?

What? You say they do. I don’t know. I haven’t seen him.

That Boston guy wearing No. 34. That couldn’t be Paul Pierce. Paul Pierce doesn’t get his shot blocked by Derrick Rose in a one-point game with 6:32 left in the fourth quarter, and then stand there and watch the rookie save the ball and start a fast break for a three point play.

Paul Pierce doesn’t get his shot blocked three minutes later. OK, it was Joakim Noah, who is a seven footer. But the real Paul Pierce with the head and body fakes would have a joy buzzer like Noah vibrating all over the place into a foul. Paul Pierce doesn’t attempt zero free throws in the fourth quarter in a desperation Game 2, and zero, also, in the overtime of Game 1.

Yes, this guy wearing Pierce’s jersey is averaging 20.1 points in the series tied 1-1 with Game 3 at the United Center Thursday.

But he’s been relatively uninvolved.

He can’t seem to get separation on his move to create space and seems to have little lift on his shot. He doesn’t seem to have any explosion to the basket and seems to avoid playing in the middle of the floor where he’s most dangerous.

I think Pierce is hurt.

I ran that by an NBA guy and he agreed that it sure looked like it. We haven’t seen Pierce play this indifferently in two years. Finals MVP. Team leader. I had been thinking maybe with Kevin Garnett out Pierce had just given up, knowing the Celtics would not repeat.

But I’ve seen a changed player the last two years, a real competitor who’s almost impossible to stop. It doesn’t make sense.

You say we haven’t heard anything about it with Garnett and now Leon Powe out injured. Of course, everyone in Boston seemed to think Garnett was fine and would be playing at near full health to open the playoffs. Until Doc Rivers said Garnett could barely move. Big difference there.

The football Patriots apparently were in some sort of spy scandal. Anything seems possible in the Boston sporting world.

It doesn’t make sense, and the Bulls have been wondering as well.

John Salmons has been defending Pierce. And though I thought Salmons looked better and quicker in Game 2, Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro said after practice Wednesday Salmons still was having trouble with his groin injury.

Asked if Salmons looked better in practice, Del Negro said: “Not really. A little bit. It goes in and out just on whether it tightens up on him. Hopefully it will stay loose and we can control his minutes and practice time. But it’s going to bother him awhile.”

I take that as confidence. They don’t need to pretend. Let them know who’s hurt and see if they can do anything about it.

Maybe Salmons looked better because Pierce was moving even more slowly.

“I’m always preparing for him to go off, be aggressive and get his team going,” said Salmons, who admitted some surprise at Pierce’s hesitancy. “My mentality is always that this is an All-Star player, a Finals MVP player. We have to concentrate on trying to defend him the best you can. He’s a great scorer. Everyone knows that he’s going to be aggressive. I’m sure he’ll try to score the ball and get us in early foul trouble. We just have to get ready for it.

“I think we know Pierce and Allen are their two big scorers, especially with Garnett out,” Salmons said. “We’ve tried to close the paint and help as much as possible. That had something to do with it.”

Yes, missing Garnett is huge on offense and defense.

Without Garnett, the Celtics aren’t a great defensive team. They turned into a barely ordinary one.

Their scoring options have diminished as the perimeter players now find more hands in their faces and eyes on them, eyes that previously moved toward Garnett.

It passed without much notice after Allen’s brilliant finish to win Game 2 and his shootout with fellow UConn player Ben Gordon.

But when asked about how he got going in the second half of Game 2, Allen credited Pierce.

Said Allen: “It was Paul. Paul made a concerted effort. Paul looked up and every time he got the ball he said, ‘Go get Ray, go get Ray, go get Ray.’ He was looking up, he was getting the ball to me, and they were rotating and by the time he threw it to me I was able to beat the rotate defense, and I got to the free throw line early.”

It seemed at the time just a teammate crediting another for unselfish play.

Could Allen be covering for his partner?

I know, I know. It sounds suspiciously like a conspiracy of deceit. That I’m imagining things. Maybe it’s playoff fever going to my head.

With a Bulls win in Boston, the Bulls have the theoretical edge now playing home. Del Negro said he needs to get Tim Thomas in the game more to spread the floor and take additional advantage of the thin Celtics bench.

“Tim Thomas can make shots,” said Del Negro. “I have to find a way to get him on the court. That’s been a luxury. People forget Luol Deng is sitting on the sidelines too. It’s unfortunate. But you have to work with the injuries just like KG is out for them. Obviously, he makes a huge impact. We have to go with the guys who are healthy.

“You just have to go play,” Del Negro said about the growing physical play, which Boston was effective with in Game 2. “We’re not happy the number of points we’re giving up. They’re not. That’s the way the series is going. When guys get into a rhythm, it’s hard to stop anybody. Hopefully we’ll have more rhythms than them and control the pace.”

Salmons added that familiarity breeds not just contempt but some ineptitude.

“I think the more times we play each other, the lower the score becomes,” said Salmons. “We’re going to get more and more familiar with each other. We’re going to know each other’s plays and individual moves. It’s going to be a battle down the stretch. I think we learned from that last (regular season) Toronto game that as good as we were playing at home, we can’t come out lackadaisical and think it’s going to work out. We have to compete every game, just like we did on the road.”

Asked about the physical play, Salmons said: “At some point, they have to start getting called for some flagrants. But that’s playoff basketball. We’re not worried about it. It is what it is.”

As for Pierce, I’m not sure what it is.

But it sure doesn’t look like Paul Pierce.

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