It’s not always easy for Doc Rivers to tell how Paul Pierce is going to shoot on a given night. Unlike the smooth stroke of, say, a Ray Allen, Pierce’s shot isn’t like that. It isn’t uniform. It doesn’t give away its secrets in the angles or motion.
So it wasn’t as if Rivers knew early on that it was going to be one of those nights for Pierce — that Pierce was going to take the Celtics on his shoulders, that he was not going to allow them to lose again.
Forty points later, Pierce had made his point.
“Paul is the toughest guy to read because he never takes the same shot,” Rivers said. “He doesn’t even have the same release point. No kid should watch that. It’s amazing how he does it.
“You never know when he’s got it going. It’s just tough to read. With Ray, you could tell right when it left his hands. Paul, there’s no read on it. It just goes in. It’s nice when it goes in.”
Becoming the oldest Celtic to score 40 or more points in regulation at 35 years and 67 days, Pierce led Boston over the Cleveland Cavaliers, 103-91, Wednesday night to stop a three-game losing streak as the team returned to TD Garden.
He made six 3-pointers, missing just one, the final one he took. Pierce was also 8 for 8 from the free throw line. His 13-for-16 shooting from the field contributed to the Celtics shooting 59.7 percent.
“I felt like the last few games I’ve been shooting the ball a lot better, three or four games now,” Pierce said. “I feel it really coming along to where I’m starting to really get into a good groove offensively, the way my shot is going, picking my spots. Even before tonight I felt pretty good.”
Like his fellow starters, Pierce has been unhappy with how the Celtics have been playing. He has expressed frustration. Perhaps that frustration played out on the court on Wednesday night.
As he said, “Who knows that I was going to come in and shoot the ball the way I did. But one thing I could control was how hard I was going to play today, and the effort I was going to put out.”
“Paul was on fire tonight,” Kevin Garnett said. “Paul had a flashback to like ’03 or ’04 or something. It was good to see, though. We walked in tonight and I could tell, just because it was a long day, that he felt kind of down in the dumps after the game [on Tuesday against the Bulls]. I told him you need to feel down in the dumps a little more often.”
Pierce helped the Celtics build a 20-point lead in the third, scoring 17 points in the quarter. He then watched from the bench as the second team nearly lost it all.
“You throw him back in when they cut it to 4, and he just goes back to work,” Rivers said.
With Pierce and the starters back in, the Celtics opened it back up. He had 8 more points in the fourth quarter, and received a standing ovation as he walked off the court for the final time with 63 seconds remaining.
“It was efficient,” Rivers said. “A lot of open shots. A lot of ball movement down the stretch. He caught fire and created his own.”
And the Cavaliers had no answer for it.
“There was nothing that we could do with him tonight,” Cleveland coach Byron Scott said. “Sometimes a guy like that, a future Hall of Famer, sometimes they get it going and there’s really nothing much you can do.
“He hit some shots tonight that I hadn’t seen him hit — or play that way — in a while.”
In doing so, Pierce made history. The only Celtic older than Pierce to score 40 or more points was Larry Bird, who had 49 on March 15, 1992, when he was 35 years and 99 days old. But that game went two overtimes.
So, as Pierce said, “Maybe I can play a little longer than anticipated.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.