Banged-Up Pierce Finally Getting Healthy For Celtics
Wait a minute. The Boston forward has averaged 28.0 points his past three games and Monday was named Eastern Conference Player of the Week. That doesn't sound like much of a junket to Bora Bora.
Actually, Pierce's vacation was from the media. Until after Monday morning's shootaround at EnergySolutions Arena in preparation for the evening game against Utah, Pierce hadn't talked to reporters for just over a week.
"I took a vacation,'' Pierce said. "I just needed a mental break. That's all. It wasn't nothing personal.''
Speaking of vacations and breaks, Pierce now looks back and wonders if that's what he needed more of last month and early this month when he was battling foot, knee and hand injuries. He believes he rushed back too soon and it hampered his play.
"I think the most part is I'm just healthy now,'' said Pierce, who, for the week that went into the NBA award, averaged 24.8 points and shot 63 percent. "I played in a lot of games that I shouldn't have played in, and I feel it's starting to come around as far as my foot, knee and hand. When you play at less than 100 percent, it's tough, especially at the age (32) I'm at right now.
"Before, I could bounce back a little faster. I learned a lot this year about myself with these injuries that I probably need to take more time off when I have these type of injuries ... I think I'm a little stubborn about it. Being in the past I've been able to play through it. It really affected my play.''
Pierce underwent arthroscopic irrigation on his ailing right knee in late December and missed five games. He suffered a strained left foot in early February, which kept him out of two games. And he sustained a mild sprain of his right thumb (shooting hand) in late February that hampered him for 2 ½ games before he finally took three games off.
Throw all the injuries together, and February was a disaster. Pierce averaged 11.7 points in the seven games he played, well below his season average of 18.1.
March didn't start off too great either, with Pierce scoring less than 10 points in two of the first three games. He wonders if he should have been resting more, especially during the period following the Feb. 14 All-Star Game and from when he hurt his hand Feb. 18 in the first half against the Lakers.
"It was a combination of everything,'' Pierce said. "My knee after the All-Star break, I got it drained right after the game. So it took a few weeks to get the strength back in that. And, right after the All-Star break, I sprained my thumb. Just little things really hampered me.''
After Pierce had miserable outings of nine points on 3-of-9 shooting Feb. 19 at Portland and five points on 2-of-10 marksmanship Feb. 21 at Denver, Boston coach Doc Rivers said he would be taking some time off. That resulted in the three-game break, which apparently should have been a longer one.
"That's what I said two weeks ago so, yeah, he did,'' Rivers said of Pierce not having taken enough time off. "But there's nothing you can do about it now. I thought he came back too quick, and it hurt him for longer than the period than if we rested him maybe more and rehabbed him more. But it's nothing you can do about it now, so we're kind of past it now.''
Obviously, the aging Celtics need Pierce to be at least close to his best to have any chance of making a gallant stand in the playoffs. And there now is renewed hope.
In a stretch between late February and mid March, the Celtics (45-24) went just 5-5, which included two blowout losses to Cleveland, an embarrassing home defeat to New Jersey and a blowout at home to Memphis. But then came last week, when the Celtics went 4-0, including a big 102-93 Saturday win at Dallas after Boston had played the night before and the Mavericks were resting.
"He's looking great,'' Rivers said of Pierce, who scored 29 points against Dallas. "I think we're coming back ... We're playing better basketball ... Paul, obviously we're trying to get him back to the go-to guy, the guy coming out of timeouts you can lean on. He's starting to get back to that, which is really important.''
Yes, it is. The playoffs are less than a month away.
Then again, Pierce already is feeling as if he's in a playoff mode.
"It was a relaxing vacation,'' Pierce said of his break from the media. "I'm feeling pretty good out there (on the court), my rhythm, the way I'm moving ... I feel great ... It's going to be a playoff atmosphere (the rest of the regular season).''
Stay tuned to see how much Pierce will be talking to the media during the stretch. Boston reporters are hoping his recent hot streak while not talking won't give him any ideas.
And the last question of Pierce's press gathering Monday morning didn't exactly thrill him. Pierce was asked about his alma mater, Kansas, being upset Saturday by Northern Iowa in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
"No comment,'' Pierce said. "I knew that (question) was coming.''
It was a question Pierce figured made for a good time to end the interview. At least he had plenty to say before then.
Chris Tomasson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @christomasson