BOSTON - Paul Pierce didn't have a very Paul Pierce-like game on Sunday afternoon. The captain of the Boston Celtics finished with only nine points on four of ten shooting, which is far off his season average of 18.1 points.
But that doesn't mean he didn't have an impact. Pierce played solid defense and was tied for a game-high with four steals, and he also made a few clutch baskets down the stretch, as he continued to display that he can contribute in other ways in the Celtics' 95-91 win over the Bulls at TD Garden.
Pierce's biggest impact came on the defensive end, where he virtually shut down Luol Deng (10 points, five rebounds in 42:43), who is making his first All-Star appearance this year. In the last meeting with the Celtics, Deng dominated Pierce and company, putting up 21 points while grabbing 16 rebounds in a Bulls win at TD Garden.
"You've really got to focus in on him," Pierce said. "He's an All-Star this year, and you know with Derrick Rose being out, I really just wanted to make a conscious effort of just slowing him down, doing what I can to keep a body on him, keeping him off the offensive rebounds. Just for the most part, you have to slow him down with the lineup they have out there, you give yourself a great chance of winning tonight."
Rajon Rondo carried the team with his play, finishing with another triple-double -- 32 points, 15 assists and 10 rebounds. Pierce is usually the man looked upon to carry the scoring load, but Rondo proved he can handle it sometimes, too.
"When he's assertive, aggressive, the way he plays, the way he played tonight, we're a tough team to stop," said Pierce. "When he's out in transition, pushing the ball, taking the shots right there, the mid-range, rebounding, just he's all energy. He's one of those guys when he plays with a lot of energy, he's so touch because he can rebound the ball well, when he pushes off the break he's tough to stop in transition. He just did it all tonight. He was great to watch."
The majority of Pierce's points didn't come until the second half, when he had five points on 2-of-6 shooting. Alas, the Celtics were still able to get off to a strong start and take an 11-point lead over the team with the best record in the NBA.
"It was important to get off to a good start - move the ball and get into a rhythm defensively, get the home crowd kind of involved - especially for these early games; sometimes they're hard to get into. We're so used to playing the seven or eight o'clock games. So it's always important; usually when we get of to a great start it's really good news for us."
Pierce and the Celtics return to action on Wednesday night when they host the Pistons.