Playing a big role, but in less minutes, Paul Pierce steps up against Heat

Josh Newman, Field Reporter

NEW YORK — In 15 mostly spectacular seasons with the Boston Celtics, Paul Pierce was often asked to shoulder much of the offensive load. At times, he was probably asked to do too much.

pierceFor example, when the Celtics lost in six games to the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs last season, Pierce averaged 42.5 minutes per contest, including a series-high 50 in Game 4. That, after he averaged a career-low 33.4 minutes over 77 regular season games at the age of 35, left him looking burned out in the playoffs.

Now, at 36, Pierce finds himself in the twilight of his career with the Nets, who are providing an opportunity to play a big role on a championship contender, but doing so without playing the heavy minutes he became accustomed to with the Celtics.

In Friday night’s 101-100 home-opening win over the Miami Heat, Pierce scored 11 of his 19 points in the game-altering third quarter to go along with six assists and five rebounds. His play in the third quarter helped spearhead a 24-8 run to open the second half that busted the game open, while his play on both ends in the fourth quarter helped seal it.

“I just wanted to just play my game in the third,” Pierce said. “I thought in the first half, I was a little too passive. I turned the ball over, I wasn’t really being aggressive on offense. I know how to play this game too well, I’m a smart player and I wanted to be aggressive. I thought it kind of opened up things for everybody and everyone fed off that aggressiveness. I can’t sit back and wait for things to happen, I’m the kind of player that likes to go out and make things happen.”

Pierce’s play in the fourth quarter in helping close the door on the Heat was a prime example of why he was brought to Brooklyn. The Nets had led by as many as 16 at one point, but the Heat kept hanging around. Midway through the fourth, Pierce got Ray Allen on his hip on the left wing before receiving a pass. In a vintage Pierce move, he took two dribbles with his back to the basket, turned and rose over Allen before burying an 18-foot jumper for a 90-78 lead with six minutes, 13 seconds left.

A short time later with the Nets’ lead back to 10, Pierce met LeBron James at the rim and blocked his driving layup out of bounds to send the sold out crowd at Barlcays Center into a frenzy.

“The first thing I told all these guys on the team is that it’s going to be a pleasure to watch this guy every night,” said Kevin Garnett, who was Pierce’s teammate on the Celtics for six seasons before the two were shipped to Brooklyn in a blockbuster draft night trade. “I get the pleasure of watching from the front row if I’m not on the court with him. I always call ‘P,’ ‘Picasso.’ He’s like a beautiful painting, a beautiful painting that I get to watch every night. It’s more than a pleasure to not only be his friend, but his teammate and be able to watch him do his thing.”

Pierce is averaging 36.6 minutes per game for his career, but with so many options on this Nets team, he isn’t likely to be asked to match that number. He played 31 minutes, including the final eight minutes, nine seconds of the fourth quarter. In the season-opener at the Cleveland Cavaliers, he played 30 minutes in another game that was close late into the fourth quarter.

On most nights, that 30-minute range is all Pierce will be asked to do in an effort to keep him healthy as the regular season winds down and the postseason comes into view in late April and early May.

“He did everything,” Brook Lopez said. “He scored, got assists, was a play-maker. His presence, energy and confidence are huge for us. It’s contagious.”