February 22, 2010
It is the 22nd day of February. Not the 22nd day of March nor April. And there is nothing wrong with Paul Pierce's(notes) knee. There's nothing we haven't been told, no phantom knee injury that we can't gauge or react to.
We do know that Paul has been bothered by a sore foot over the last couple of weeks, which hasn't seemed to slow him too much, and truly bothered by a hyperextended thumb since Thursday's win over the Lakers. That thumb seems to be crippling his offensive game.
Badly. If you saw his work against the Nuggets yesterday, you'd understand. It wasn't that he missed eight of his 10 shots; he's had rough nights before. It was the way in which he missed them. The spin, if you'll allow, in which he missed them. Three of his four free-throw attempts ran cold as well, and the final two (in the fourth quarter) looked like they were shot by someone working with his off hand.
The rest of his game looked intact. He was burned repeatedly by Carmelo Anthony(notes), but Carmelo Anthony has been burning guys repeatedly all season. Pierce actually played some fantastic defense on some of Anthony's shots, but the Denver All-Star is just seeing nothing but the basket and the end of his fingertips at this point.
This should have us feeling good about things, because unless you have a vested interest in seeing Paul Pierce go down, we want to see the C's at full strength. And though the foot is a problem, it doesn't appear to be hurting his game much as he slides into place defensively or sets himself up for a good shot.
The thumb is different. The guy's been shooting the ball a certain way for two decades now, and that certain way has been taken away. Technically, the thumb shouldn't have a huge roll in how that rock rolls out of your hand and to the hoop, but any change in the routine is bound to create chaos. You overcompensate. You think too much. Or even if you achieve nirvana, passing on the compensation, declining to ponder as you pull up, you're still shooting a basketball on national TV with four fingers and no guiding thumb. No matter your particular outlook, the shot is not going to be the same.
Which is why Paul needs to sit. For as long as it takes.
I'm not going to tell you that the Celtics can afford for him to take a break because they cannot. Though Ray Allen(notes) is having a throwback month and Kevin Garnett(notes) actually caught and finished an alley-oop yesterday, the C's are in a dogfight. Every win counts.
Things are going well, this has to be pointed out. The team went out west to play four games in six days, and they managed to topple the Kings, Lakers and Trail Blazers before fading a bit in Denver. That's a successful jaunt, by any measure. Allen's rolling, Nate Robinson(notes) should help and the team still scored over 109 points per 100 possessions against Denver with Pierce hurting. That's a fantastic mark for a rather pedestrian offensive outfit (14th in offensive efficiency this year) like the Celtics. And seven of the team's next 10 games come against teams with sub-.500 records.
So sit the guy for, let's say, seven or 10 games. I understand that Boston is prone to losing to just about anyone -- this league is that good in 2010 -- and that even Toronto (at 31-24, 4.5 games back) has the potential to take over the top spot in the Atlantic if Pierce sits for a spell. This is the part where I remind you that the top spot in the Atlantic Division in the second week of March is not the goal.
The goal is a championship. And if it means losing home-court advantage to the Hawks in the second round, so be it. The Hawks are going to give Boston trouble no matter what, as the home/road difference that was so obvious in 2008 (when Boston destroyed the Hawks at home four times and lost three close ones in Atlanta) is long gone. So you might as well take to what feels like an inevitable series with Pierce at full strength. If I'm a Celtics fan, I'd rather play four games in Georgia with a healthy Pierce than three in Atlanta with whatever it was we saw Sunday afternoon.
The All-Star break is over, the trade deadline passed, and the finish line seems closer by the day. Doesn't matter. It's February. For as deep as we feel like we're into this season, the regular season doesn't end for two more months. The Finals won't conclude for another four months. Now's the time to get in a quick nap.
We hear that Pierce might sit for a few games, and that's a good start. But don't put a number on it. Put a goal on it. Sit him until he's ready to be Paul Pierce again, because that's the only way to bring home a championship again.