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Pierce must find himself again for Celtics to have chance

by | CBSSports.com National Columnist
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BOSTON -- Paul Pierce sat at his locker, crumpled yet still defiant, and had that look. It's a look longtime Pierce observers have seen before. That irritated look. That look that says: ask the wrong question and you'll get the heel of my shoe.

Though the way Pierce is shooting, even if he took a swipe at a slow-moving target like a writer, he'd still miss.

Pierce was frustrated at losing to the Lakers in Game 3 but there must be equal individual frustration at the padlock the Lakers are putting on the Celtics star.

Because Pierce is locked down, the Celtics are in deep trouble.

Talk about Rajon Rondo or Kevin Garnett all you'd like, but Pierce is still arguably the crucial artery through which life flows through Boston.

If Rondo represents the Celtics' higher brain functions, Pierce is the more primal Id. He's the team's passion and guts, and right now he's getting punk'd big time.

The stunning reversal of fortunes for Ray Allen will be among the headlines, but as usual, many will miss the bigger story of these NBA Finals, which is Pierce mostly disappearing against the Lakers. There has been a moment or two for him in the series, but mostly nothing. Many times, Ron Artest has chumped him. In other moments, the refs have.

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Derek Fisher comes through when the Lakers need him the most -- like he has done so many times before. Read more

Fisher crucial in Game 3

Recap: Lakers 91, Celtics 84

Matchup: Lakers 2, Celtics 1

Schedule and Results

Game 1: Lakers 102, Celtics 89

Game 2: Celtics 103, Lakers 94

Game 3: Lakers 91, Celtics 84

Game 4: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 10 (Boston)

Game 5: 8 p.m. ET - Sunday, June 13 (Boston)

Game 6: 9 p.m. ET - Tuesday, June 15 (L.A.)

Game 7: 9 p.m. ET - Thursday, June 17 (L.A.)

And yet in others, Pierce looks like a really old man. A really, really, old man.

"This is the way the game goes sometimes," Pierce said of the 91-84 loss. "There's no script."

Actually, there is, and this is how it's going. Opening scene: Boston star meets crazy man. Crazy man's name is Artest. Crazy man uses crazy powers to nullify star. Star gets frustrated. Crazy man smiles crazily. Star's coach blames it on foul calls. Team on brink. Roll credits.

Can Pierce come back in Game 4 and drop 40? Of course he can. He's Paul Pierce. He's a Hall of Famer. But Artest and foul calls are so far turning Pierce into more observer than the traditional significant game changer he has always been.

Pierce has still run his yapper as he's known to do, declaring to Lakers fans after Game 2 at Staples Center that the Celtics weren't coming back to Los Angeles.

"We'll have to do this the hard way," Pierce said Tuesday.

In Game 3, Pierce had zero first-quarter points. When Artest got in foul trouble early, Pierce still struggled with Luke Walton covering him. Pierce finished with five points in the first half and 15 for the game on 5-of-12 shooting.

Pierce is 13 for 36 in this series. Thirteen made shots in three games of the NBA Finals.

Paul Pierce is having as much trouble with the refs as he is with his shot or Ron Artest's defense. (Getty Images)  
Paul Pierce is having as much trouble with the refs as he is with his shot or Ron Artest's defense. (Getty Images)  
" ... I don't know if it was Artest's defense or the foul calls on Paul," Boston coach Doc Rivers said. "You know, Paul never got a rhythm. Every time he came on the floor, another whistle blows and he had to sit down. He was completely taken out of the game by the foul calls.

"I'll give Artest credit when he deserves it, but today it was more that Paul Pierce had to sit on the bench. He'd play five minutes, have to sit back down, four minutes, have to sit. I mean, he wasn't allowed to play. They didn't allow him to play tonight."

The truth is most of Pierce's overall struggles for the series are because he has entered low orbit around Planet Ron Ron. Pierce wasn't helping himself with cheap reach-in fouls in Game 3. He and the Celtics can blame officials all they'd like -- and the refs have been absolutely, positively full of fail in this series -- but Pierce has to blame Pierce first.

"We still haven't played our best basketball," he said. "The best basketball is going to come."

The best basketball for Pierce had better come soon or this series will end quickly for Boston.

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