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Paul Pierce Owes 'Under' Bettors

   by Ben Burns - 04/20/2009

Paul Pierce is an 83 percent free throw shooter.

He was 100 percent choker Saturday, especially to anyone who had under 199 in Game 1 against the Bulls.

Trailing 97-96 by one with 2.6 seconds left, Pierce drew a foul on an overzealous Joakim Noah.

The Celtics’ captain stepped to the foul line and calmly drained the first free throw to tie the score.

Make the second one, and Boston survives the scare, and under players, who were clearly on the right side, collect.

Instead, Pierce misfired, sending the game into overtime, where the total was easily eclipsed.

For a player who believes he is in the same class as Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James, Pierce certainly didn’t show it Saturday.

It’s a shame, too. With Kevin Garnett out, this is a golden opportunity for Pierce to put the Celtics on his back and prove to everyone that he does belong among the elite superstars of the league.

After Game 1, you’d be hard pressed to find anyone that would agree.

Like the rest of his team, Pierce looked uninspired to start the game.

He attempted only four shots in the first quarter, while trying to get his teammates involved.

With Garnett, that strategy might work for the Celtics. But without the Big Ticket, who exactly does Pierce believe needs be involved in the offense from the start? Kendrick Perkins? Glen Davis?

If either of those guys lead the Celtics in scoring in the playoffs, it will be a short stay for the defending champs.

"As the captain of the ball club, I can't allow that, for us to come out as flat as we came out," Pierce told the Boston Globe. "We've got to understand, 'Hey, this is the playoffs, you lose you go home,' so we have to have a better sense of urgency from the jump each and every game. And I promise you that we will."

To his credit, Pierce did turn it on in the second half. He scored 16 of his 23 points in the second half, helping the Celtics erase a nine-point deficit.

But his lack of complete focus was still evident late in the fourth quarter.

With the Bulls leading by one with 1:40 left, Pierce held the ball carelessly above his head while calling out a play.

Chicago’s Kirk’s Hinrich reached up and knocked the ball out of Pierce’s hands. It led to a Bulls’ fastbreak and a Tyrus Thomas basket.

Maybe Pierce will redeem himself as the series progresses. But, after Saturday’s performance, he’s got a lot of work in front of him.

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