Before the Boston Celtics practiced on Monday, Paul Pierce took some time for an exclusive interview with PaulPierce.net, and did not disappoint.
The Truth spoke about a range of subjects, from the playoffs to the current series against the Orlando Magic, from playing on the road to the honor of spending his entire career as a Boston Celtic.
Q: What did you guys take out of Game 1, other than a win, to learn on in this series?
A: It’s just closing out the game. We had their backs against the wall, up 20 points and they trim 16 in the fourth. I think we have to do a better job of executing. We turned the ball over too much. They were able to get second shots at the basket and we just sort of let the time run out instead of going out there, finishing off the game, extending the lead and not giving them any chance.
Q: They had quite a few second chance opportunities in Game 1, is that something to address?
A: I think so. I looked up and saw they had 15 offensive rebounds and that’s really disturbing. They’re a great team and they’ll rebound. But we have to do a better job with rebounding. Those second chance points, I think that’s something we gave up mostly in the second half. We also have to figure out how to stop Jameer Nelson in the pick and roll a little better. He really got hot in the second half. So we’re far from being where we want to be in this series. We’re going to come out and continue to work.
Q: What makes this team so good on the road. Is it experience? What is it?
A: It definitely is our experience, being in tough situations in the playoffs, being in tough situations throughout the regular season. There’s just a mental toughness you have to have on the road. A lot of teams can win at home, but when we have our backs against the wall, getting booed, I think that’s when we’re at our best, mentally. We’re a mentally strong group. You have to have another gear when you go on the road. You can’t expect calls and it’s hard to get momentum when the crowd isn’t cheering for you. This is a group that loves that type of adversity. That’s why we’ve been a great road team over the last few years. We were better on the road this year then we were at home. I don’t know why, that’s crazy.
Q: Is there something about a hostile crowd that actually brings out more in you guys?
A: I think when you’re on the road and you’re at a disadvantage, other things go up, like your focus and your toughness. It’s like if you lose a sense, something else enhances, like if you lose your sight, your sense of smell enhances. I think it’s like that with us. On the road, as opposed to being at home, our sense of urgency goes up. Our toughness goes up because we’re not as comfortable in front of our home crowd. When you’re at home, you’re more comfortable and things are easy going. You have your spots on the court. On the road, you don’t have that and I think everything heightens with our play when we get on the road because of that. I think it is a challenge that we like. We have a lot of competitive guys in this group.
Q: How good does it feel to quiet a hostile crowd?
A: I like quiet arenas actually more than loud ones. There’s no better feeling, just to look up in the crowd, see their faces, their reactions (puts hands on head to simulate reaction). I love that. I love it. I love when people talk bad about me on the road. It’s just like: This is basketball. You don’t get this in high school or college, being in such a hostile environment, signs saying “Pierce you look like this.” You love that stuff as a competitor. Then when the lead goes up, they’re quietly putting the signs down, erasing the board, that’s fun to watch. Players that talk about how they don’t look in the stands, they notice it too. Believe me, they notice it.
Q: Do you remember what it was like walking off in that Finals game in LA after the comeback and the feeling in that building?
A: That was a great feeling. I had about 50 people in that building, family and friends there. Even though they were in the nosebleeds, it was a great feeling. I could pretty much hear them over the silence. They almost got in a fight. I had a lot of people at the Finals that year. I bought like 30 tickets at the top [of Staples Center] and put like five family members down low. They just needed to get in the building.
Q: How much does having days in between games in the postseason actually help?
A: Well, you get a chance to rest the body a little bit, go over the gameplan and things that went wrong.
Q: Does it get better, not having to deal with back-to-backs?
A: Oh yeah, I feel it, I definitely feel that, especially with all the injuries I’ve had. The longest I’ve been healthy all year is this second season, for these last couple of months.
Q: Is it hard on you, not knowing how many shots you might get in a game?
A: No. You have to be a veteran and you have to be able to sacrifice to be able to do this and win games. That’s something all of us have bought in to. There’s going to be different nights for me every night. But the one constant thing we do around here is defend and rebound the ball, so regardless, there’s always ways you can help the team win. We understand that as a group.
Q: When did you guys start to understand that or have you always?
A: I’ve understood that since we put this team together. That’s the way it was. I knew I wasn’t going to be a player that’s going to average 25 points per game once we put this team together.
Q: What is the key to defending the Magic’s three-point shooters?
The key is just challenging the shots and getting to the shooters. A lot of times they move the ball, make the extra pass and the defender doesn’t get to the shooters. They’re left with a lot of wide-open looks. We figure through the course of the game, if we can challenge as many of their threes as possible, then over that course of time they’re going to miss more than they make. They’re going to shoot 30-35 threes and if we can challenge 30 out of 35, I think we’ll be in good shape.
Q: How important is it to take that away from them?
It’s huge because that’s their game, inside-out. When Howard gets the ball, they’ve got shooters out there that they can go to and spread the court on them. That’s a big key to this series. If you’ve seen all the series’ and all the games they win, they have big three-point games.
Q: You seemed locked in offensively in Game 1, are you hitting a groove?
A: Well, it’s only one game, but it’s just about me going out there, being aggressive, attacking. Doc mentioned that to me before the series started. He wanted me to be more aggressive, look for my shot. He needs me to be more aggressive if we have a chance at winning this series.
Q: Are there more favorable matchups in this series for you than in the last one?
A: Well, obviously I don’t have to guard LeBron James, the MVP, playing at such a high level. That helps. That definitely helps. I don’t have to play against the two-time MVP, so that takes a little bit of stress off of me. But at the same time you have to worry about the guys they do have. Vince is not LeBron, but when you put him with Mickael Pietrus and Matt Barnes, the way they’re playing, they come pretty close.
Q: How much would it mean to take out the team that took you guys out of the postseason last year?
A: If we take out the Magic, it would mean going to the championship. I don’t know how much motivation our guys draw from revenge. Our motivation is to win a championship. We know they put us out last year, but that was last year. This is a new year. Some guys will use it as motivation and some guys won’t.
Q: How much has adding a big man like Rasheed meant to the success this postseason?
A: We thought that was big coming into the season. Before the season you look at all the teams that are perceived to be contenders around the NBA and they have size, starting off with the Lakers and then of course Orlando, even Cleveland. We knew just getting some more size inside with Rasheed would help us out on the road to the playoffs.
Q: How much does it help you guys to have another big to throw at Dwight?
A: Well that’s one of the reasons we went out and got him. We felt like we needed some depth at that position. We play Cleveland, they’ve got Shaq, Dwight here in Orlando, that was going to be big for us, just getting some depth at the big position. We felt that if we had another big last year, whether it was Leon or Kevin, we would have gotten through the series.
Q: Were you guys aware of what Rasheed has done on Dwight defensively throughout his whole career?
A: I was very aware. I watched Detroit’s series’ against Orlando and saw how well Sheed was able to match up with him. Now that gives us three or four guys that can match up with him, between Kevin, Baby, Rasheed and Perk.
Q: What do you make of people saying, you can’t “turn it on” for the playoffs?
A: The way I look at it, the way things are going, it's that if you put a group of guys together in a situation where the basketball games mean so much more now. The regular season means a lot, but you’re talking about basketball that means everything. I attribute it to being veterans, being focused. It's the same things we do during the regular season. It’s the same principles. It’s just a matter of going out and doing it night-in and night-out. The stakes are so much higher that urgency is there and it’s more consistent now. I just think the focus is definitely up, the sense of urgency is definitely there. Now that the playoffs are here, night in and night out we’re more consistent. Everybody has gotten away with all their injuries. A lot of things happened at the right time going into the playoffs. They say you can’t turn it on for the playoffs but we have a veteran crew that understands how to play basketball when your back is against the wall, that sense of urgency, and also a group that understands what it’s going to take.
Q: How strong a team are you right now?
A: We’re one of the top teams because we’re able to maintain our focus, our intensity level for 48 minutes. That was a problem for us throughout the course of the season, since it’s such a long season. There was a lot of mental fatigue. Now that it’s the playoffs we know our target.
Q: The team seems so bonded right now, was it like that all season?
A: I think we’re around each other so much we get tired of each other. I know I do. I know I come in sometimes and I’m tired of seeing the same faces. That’s normal, just like any kind of relationship, you have your ups and downs. But you’ve been together so long that you get past the differences and you move on.
Q: Do you feel like the team is peaking at the right time?
A: Yeah, I mean I can’t remember the last time we won four games in a row. Is it four games in a row now? I can’t remember the last time we won four in a row. I’d like to say [we’re peaking], so hopefully we can keep it going.
Q: What kind of a coach is assistant coach Tom Thibodeau?
A: He’s a workaholic. When I come into the gym, late in the evenings, 8 or 9 o’clock, he’s still there after having a practice that morning. I’m always catching him in there watching film. He’s probably the most prepared coach that I’ve ever seen. He’s very active in his role with us on the staff. A lot of coaches don’t let their assistants do a lot, but in our coaching staff, you have a number of guys who have their roles. There’s a point in practice where he comes out and runs the practice for a good 15-20 minutes, then another coach, then Doc. It’s constant interaction with the different coaches, especially Tom.
Q: How do Doc and Tom get the team to commit to being so strong defensively?
A: We talk about it everyday. We practice it every day and that’s what it’s going to be. When you practice something every day and do something every day, it starts to become a habit. Once guys see the success that you get from it, it’s easy to buy into it when you come in and see it work.
Q: What has Doc meant to keeping the team together?
A: Doc is very important. He’s a great coach for this team because of his strong personality. He’s able to manage us. He knows when to go hard on us and when to ease back on us. It’s just the perfect compliment, especially when you have so many alpha males in this group.
Q: How much does the talk of you guys being “too old” fuel the team and provide motivation?
A: I think that’s a touchy subject. A lot of us aren’t going to really talk about it. But in the back of our minds, a lot of us are using that talk for motivation. A lot of guys aren’t going to say that, but in the back of my mind, I’m using it to motivate me during the playoffs and prove people wrong. That’s always been my motivation, to try to prove people wrong, ever since I came into the league.
Q: With as much you’ve done with this team in the last several years, Championship, Conference Semis and now back to the Conference Finals, do you think people realize what you mean to this team?
A: It’s hard to say. I think the people in Boston really appreciate it. The people who aren’t from around the area take it for granted, but there are only three or four players in the NBA that have played with one franchise for so long. It means a lot to me to be able to represent one franchise and also win a championship with that franchise. It feels great, the things that I’ve been able to do in my career in Boston.
Q: What has it been like interacting with fans on Twitter? Do you read their responses?
A: I read them and it gives me a chance to tell the fans about my daily life, talk about basketball, keep them updated on a lot of things I’m doing. It’s fun, it really is fun.
Q: What would you say to your fans reading PaulPierce.net, as you’re getting ready for Game 2?
A: I want to acknowledge our fans in Boston. When we come back to Boston for Game 3, I want it to be the loudest arena that I’ve ever been in. I like quiet arenas on the road, but I want our home fans in Boston to be the loudest I’ve ever heard in my life.