- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 8, 2008

BOSTON | The modern-day Big Three carried the Boston Celtics during the regular season. But when in need of a lift in the postseason, the Celtics have sought “The Truth,” and Paul Pierce has delivered.

He scored a team-high 22 points in Games 5 and 7 in the opening series against Atlanta. He dueled with LeBron James and lifted Boston over Cleveland with 41 points in Game 7. He scored a team-high 27 points in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference clincher as the Celtics advanced to their first NBA Finals in 21 years.

And in Game 1 of the finals against the Los Angeles Lakers, Pierce, after teammates carried him off the court with what doctors later deemed a strained meniscus, provided more heroics. He came back to knock down back-to-back 3-pointers and sparked a game-deciding rally.

But now, because of his gimpy knee, the Celtics don’t know how much - or even if - they can rely on Pierce in Game 2 on Sunday at TD Banknorth Garden.

Pierce didn’t practice Friday, and he only participated in the walkthrough portion of Boston’s session Saturday.

He said before taking the court he walked more effortlessly than he did the day before, and his range of motion also had improved.

“I did a lot of ice and steam throughout the day yesterday,” Pierce said Saturday. “Swelling is down a little. Still some stiffness, can’t quite all the way bend it like I want to, but it’s definitely a step forward from [Friday]. So continue to do the things I’m doing, ice, steam, rest, probably some laser treatment throughout the day today, tomorrow throughout the day, and should be ready to go tomorrow.”

Celtics coach Doc Rivers hopes Pierce will play but said he won’t know how effective his All-Star will be until Game 2 gets under way.

If Pierce’s knee responds negatively, the Celtics must make adjustments.

“Well, they change obviously,” Rivers said of his strategies if Pierce can’t contribute. “Paul offensively, most of the time, our No. 1 weapon offensively. We facilitate a lot of our offense through Kevin [Garnett], but Paul is the one guy that can get a shot whenever he wants to get a shot. That would clearly change things a little bit there.”

Pierce said he will be fine once he’s under the glare of the lights of the big stage.

“Usually, you tend to forget about injuries when you’re on that court, and you’re playing for something special,” he said. “That’s what you dream about all your life.”

The Lakers are preparing for a fully effective Pierce because of the damage the Celtics captain inflicted upon them in his late return in Game 1.

“Well, he looked fine to me,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “I think at this stage, at this moment, I know how bad he wants to win a championship. He and Kevin and Ray [Allen], this is it. He’s going to come out, and he’s going to be ready to play for sure.”

Rivers wouldn’t say to whom he would turn if Pierce couldn’t start or if Pierce starts but pulls up lame early in the game, but it’s likely that James Posey and Leon Powe would get the call.

But Pierce isn’t the Celtics’ only concern. Starting center Kendrick Perkins, who left Game 1 with a sprained ankle in the third quarter and didn’t return, couldn’t practice Friday or Saturday. Perkins didn’t participate in Saturday’s walkthrough.

Perkins, who in the postseason has averaged 6.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, on Saturday described himself as “80 percent,” and said he will do everything he can to play. Veteran P.J. Brown likely will see his minutes increase, and the rest of the Celtics are prepared to take on larger roles.

“I think anybody that comes in and fills those positions, whether it’s [Posey] or whether it’s [Powe] or whoever, [Brown], it obviously falls on everybody,” Garnett said. “But to make plays and put guys in positions to where they can be successful is part of the responsibility for us with [Allen] and our playmakers.

“Whether [Pierce and Perkins] play or don’t play. I think the mind-set needs to be consistent with myself and some of the other guys who make plays for others, and that’s the way it is.”

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