Celtics captain Paul Pierce had another sub-par offensive performance in Game 3 of the NBA Finals on Tuesday night. But the C's weren't exactly heaping the praise on the man guarding Pierce, Lakers forward Ron Artest.
"I don't know if it was Artest's defense or the foul calls on Paul," said Boston coach Doc Rivers. "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 go back down, four minutes, have to sit. I mean, he wasn't allowed to play. They didn't allow him to play tonight."
Strong words. But after three games of these Finals, you can see why Doc's so frustrated — foul trouble has been an issue every single game. In Game 1, it was Ray Allen who picked up two personals early, relegating himself to the bench and never finding an offensive rhythm all night. In Game 2, it was Kevin Garnett; in Game 3, it was Pierce.
"It's a bit frustrating, to be honest," said Garnett, who played just 23 minutes in Game 2. "But different series are going to call for different guys to step up, and the way some of the calls go sometimes, two or three guys might be in foul trouble, and just from a flow standpoint, it's just not there. If you look at our series, I don't think there's been a point where all three of us have had huge games. Something is going on. There's always a dilemma with one of us. … Frustration? Yeah, it is. We've just got to continue to grind and continue to do things and continue it work hard."
The Celtics know that rather than complain, their best tactic from here is to fix the problem. Rivers has preached discipline, on both ends of the floor. Allen has talked about improving his defensive footwork, focusing on moving his feet instead of his hands. This team knows how to stay out of foul trouble — they just have to draw up a plan and execute it.
"That's the adjustment that we have to make," Allen said. "We have to learn from what we're doing. This is Game 4 now, so hopefully we settle in."
"If we can keep them out of foul trouble, it would be easier," added Glen Davis. "The rhythm of the game would be better for those players. We're going to try to stay focused and play the game the right way, so that the refs won't call those fouls."
The Celtics' offense has been unpredictable because of the refs' whistles. Allen was limited in Game 1 to the point where he only attempted eight shots, a mere two of them from 3-point range. Garnett shot 2-of-5 from the field in Game 2 and finished with just six points. Pierce was so bogged down in the first half of Game 3 that he didn't score a point until the 2:47 mark in the second quarter.
For the guy quarterbacking the Celtics' offense, it sure gets confusing.
"It's hard to get a rhythm when you're on the bench the entire first half," said Rajon Rondo, referring to Pierce. "And then you come in with three fouls, and you can't really be as aggressive as you want."
It's a different guy sitting out each night, and for Rondo, that means finding a different guy to go to, each time Rivers shuffles his rotation. Eventually, it gets frustrating.
"A little bit," Rondo admitted. "But we've got to move on and make adjustments. There's 15 guys on the roster."
If the Celtics don't fix their foul troubles soon, they'll just have to find away around them. This series will be a true test of the Celtics' depth as a team.
"When we do get in foul trouble, guys have got to come in and step up," said Kendrick Perkins. "Whoever's on the court."