Looking relaxed in a gray warm-up suit, sunglasses and a black leather cap, Pierce sat out the Boston Celtics’ practice Sunday because of a cold. He also needed the rest, after taking a pounding in Saturday’s 103-100 win.
Pierce went 21-for-21 from the line, setting an NBA playoff record for most free throws made without a miss. Eleven of them came in the fourth quarter, and his 3-pointer with 27.5 seconds capped Boston’s comeback from a 13-pound deficit in the final 7 1/2 minutes.
Pierce scored 40 points, including 21 in the final period. But he wasn’t thrilled with his overall performance in the game.
“Truly, I feel like I didn’t play well yesterday,” he said.
For three quarters, Pierce missed layups and was off on his jump shot, going 4-for-19 from the field as the Celtics fell behind by as many as 16 in the third period.
Pierce didn’t blame his slow start on the defense of Indiana’s Ron Artest; he said fatigue limited the elevation on his step-back jumpers.
“I don’t think it was the defense shutting me down,” he said. “They were shots I normally hit, just didn’t make.”
Pierce kept pushing, though. He continually put his head down and drove toward the basket. He attacked the lane and never hesitated, spinning around if he had to draw contact. He got knocked down and kept popping back up.
Getting hit is part of the game, and Pierce is prepared for it.
“I’ve probably been knocked down 1,000 times,” he said. “That’s how it is when you develop a reputation as a marked man. Teams are going to be more physical against you.”
Pierce isn’t going to change, and neither is Boston’s game plan for Game 2 on Monday night.
“We are what we are offensively, and we go to Paul in the fourth quarter,” coach Jim O’Brien said. “We go to him under all circumstances. We’ve seen Paul go 1-for-15 and then score 46 points in the second half.”
Pierce’s good first step usually allows him to get past his primary defender. It’s just a matter of the second or third, and that’s when he uses some fancy maneuvering to reach the basket.
“He spins a lot, and when he spins, he just creates contact,” Indiana’s Al Harrington said. “It’s up to the ref what he wants to call.”
The Pacers didn’t have an answer for Pierce in the fourth. Just when they thought they contained him from the floor, he sank both of his 3-point attempts in the period.
“He made two 3s that were contested and were tough shots, and we didn’t,” Indiana coach Isiah Thomas said. “When it got down to the individual play of Pierce, we had a difficult time with that.”
The Pacers took comfort Sunday that Pierce did struggle for three quarters. There was no panic, no sense of immediate concern from the players. They should know that a Game 1 victory doesn’t ensure a series win. Indiana won the opener on the road the past two years but didn’t advance.
“Winning Game 1 doesn’t mean anything,” Jermaine O’Neal said. “The key is winning Game 2 and going to Boston and trying to get a victory. We’re not down. We feel pretty good.”
Thomas said the Pacers won’t defend Pierce much differently than they did Saturday, and the coach doesn’t expect him to go to the line 21 times again.
“We had pretty much control of the game,” Thomas said. “There aren’t too many things we’ll change. We’ll try to get better and tighten it up a little bit.”