Paul Pierce needs to be Paul Pierce tonight.
''For us to win, I have to be a better player,'' Pierce said. ''I was a really big culprit.''
He wasn’t the only Celtics player to come out and look flat, but he’s right. He has to be aggressive tonight, and Boston will need his offense.
While second-year guard Avery Bradley provided a scoring boost for Boston to close out the regular season, everything changes and intensifies in the playoffs.
In Atlanta, Bradley looked like a different player than the one who had impressed game after game to close out the year. Finishing with 12 points on 12 shots and missing both of his three-point attempts in Game 1, he looked rattled.
There’s the possibility that he shakes off his nerves and finds his groove tonight, but playing alongside Rondo in the backcourt is much different than playing without him.
With Doc Rivers planning to start Mickael Pietrus in place of Rondo and Ray Allen still a game-time decision, Bradley slides over to the point guard spot. He’s been stellar backing up Allen at the 2 this season, but manning the point in a system that’s successful because it regularly runs like a well-oiled machine is an entirely different ballgame.
This is why the Celtics will need Pierce to shine. He will need to be much more aggressive on the offensive end of the floor, but he’ll also need to act as distributor.
Pierce tallied 14 assists in a Celtics victory over the Orlando Magic a few weeks ago when Rondo was out of the lineup because of a back injury. He’s known for the points he puts on the board, but he’s a more-than-capable passer and, most importantly, he knows his personnel and what they’re capable of.
Pierce needs not only to score today, but also to alleviate some of the pressure that Bradley will undoubtedly feel as the starting point guard by acting as the point forward. While Bradley came into the league as a point guard, he has shone as shooting guard alongside Rondo. Pierce will need to have the ball in his hands early in the shot clock to help initiate the offense.
Losing a point guard as skilled as Rondo is a tremendous loss for Boston. People talk about the Big Three, but in reality, Rondo is the most important piece of their puzzle. He is their engine.
The benefit of having a group of vets who understand the system as well as the Celtics do is the advantage of players who know how to make the right basketball play.
While Keyon Dooling will certainly be expected to step up and fill gaps tonight, this is Pierce’s opportunity to redeem himself after that disaster of a Game 1.
After a season of Rondo delivering time after time, tonight it’s Pierce’s turn to repay his point guard with an assist and send the series back to Boston tied up at 1-1.