The first time Paul Pierce’s neck injury revealed itself to the public was Feb. 22 in Phoenix, when the pain was so strong that Pierce left the game against the Suns.
Pierce went to the sideline with a stinger and a grimace. He did return, though. And then this past week, he acknowledged that he has actually been playing in pain for the better part of two months and he expects that pain to linger the rest of the season.
“I’m about as healthy as I’m probably going to be in the regular season right now,” Pierce said.
According to guard Courtney Lee, Pierce has a standing offer from coach Doc Rivers to sit out a game if he needs it, but, of course, Pierce has continually declined that offer.
“He’s a tough player, he’s our leader, he’s our captain,” Lee said.
The 35-year-old Pierce has played up and down the last two months, which he said might be the result of his neck injury.
However, Pierce has raised his overall level of play — averaging 17.8 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 6.8 assists in February — after Rajon Rondo was lost for the season.
Against the Warriors Friday night, Pierce again came up big, with a game-high 26 points and 8 rebounds.
“He’s playing huge for us right now,” Kevin Garnett said.
Pierce said after the game that he just needs to get treatment and massages every day to help him through.
Balance is what the Celtics had emphasized immediately after Rondo went down. They preached the idea of strong contributions up and down the lineup, especially from the bench.
This notion proved to be quite successful as the Celtics reeled off seven consecutive wins.
Yet with several new players acclimating to the team, balance is again a question if not a concern, because it’s unclear whether Jordan Crawford, Terrence Williams, D.J. White, and Shavlik Randolph will be able to contribute much while they adjust to their new environs.
On Friday, the Celtics looked as balanced as they were before the All-Star break. They scored 94 points with only two players in double figures; six others scored 7 or more points.
But at this point, said Rivers, balance is a hard thing to gauge with this team. One night, several players might score in double figures and another night, it might be one or two.
“Listen, I don’t even know what balance we have,” he said. “I swear. I’m not kidding.”
That’s a markedly different response from just a few weeks ago, but it’s also an indicator of how much turnover this roster has had because of injuries.
Passing it along
The scouting report on Crawford would open with the fact that he’s a shooter, then transition into other points, such as his love for shooting the ball and his desire to shoot whenever he has the ball in his hands.
It’s unknown whether that scouting report would contain anything at all about Crawford’s ability to pass the ball, and that might be a good thing for Crawford, whose passing ability was praised by Rivers after Friday’s win.
“It’s funny, he gave us a huge lift with his passing as much as he did with his shooting,” Rivers said. “I thought he made some terrific passes.”
Along with 4 points and 5 rebounds, Crawford had 2 assists off the bench, but he deferred on the subject of whether he’s an underrated passer.
“I let other people judge my game,” he said. “I just try to find the open man and find the basket where I can.”
So, then, is Crawford a pass-first player?
“That’s a good question,” he said, and then laughed along with the reporters around him.Baxter Holmes can be reached at email@example.com.