Future Hall of Famer finding his form as top reserve
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Paul Pierce wasn’t just providing lip service when he intimated earlier this season that he was willing to do “whatever it takes” to help the Nets win.
The future Hall of Famer, thriving in his new role as Brooklyn’s top reserve, scored a season-high 27 points Wednesday night in the Nets’ 113-107 loss to the Washington Wizards before 16,187 fans at Downtown’s Barclays Center.
Relegated to bench duty by first-year head coach Jason Kidd since returning from a hand injury earlier this month, Pierce hasn’t pouted or sniped to the media about what some may perceive as a lack of respect toward a 10-time NBA All-Star and former Finals MVP.
Instead, he’s embraced his newfound status as the leader of the Nets’ “Bench Mob”, averaging better than 16 points over his last four games, including Wednesday’s breathtaking 10-of-12 shooting effort off the pine.
“I am just starting to get things going,” noted Pierce, who also grabbed six rebounds, handed out three assists and blocked a shot during his 35 ½-minute stint against Washington.
“My hand is feeling good,” he added. “My groin is feeling good. I’m understanding the system and understanding my spots.”
An All-Star-laden starting unit of Brook Lopez, Deron Williams, Kevin Garnett, Joe Johnson and Pierce has played less than 100 minutes together thus far this season due to a variety of injuries.
Pierce, presumed to be an untouchable presence in that Fab Five, has watched patiently as reserves like Alan Anderson and Mirza Teletovic have been on the floor for the opening tip while he sits and waits his turn the past two weeks.
“I mean I don’t really care,” Pierce said of his backup role. “I have adjusted. I have been a starter my whole career and I am making an adjustment as a player coming off the bench.”
Pierce’s sacrifice isn’t lost on Kidd, who desperately needs his veteran team leaders to buy into his coaching philosophy if this team is to seriously contend over the next four months.
"It gives us the luxury of a guy who understands being a starter," Kidd said of Pierce. “But also a guy who can score the ball and understand defensively what we're trying to do here."
The former first-round draft pick and Los Angeles native spends his bench time figuring out the opposition’s defense and instructing his fellow reserves on how best to attack it once they are called to duty.
“You just have to watch the game and help the guys on the sidelines,” Pierce revealed of his bench responsibilities. “You get a chance to see and understand what is going on out there instead of starting out the game.”
In his first 15 games as a Nets starter, Pierce averaged 12.4 points per game on 37 percent shooting.
Since coming off the bench, the former Kansas Jayhawk is netting 13.4 points on 53 percent shooting.
Those lofty numbers are indicative of Pierce’s indomitable spirit in the face of a challenge, something he showed off nightly as a perennial All-Star in Boston.
Now, he’s building a new legacy here in Brooklyn as a more humble, but just as valuable superstar.
“It is definitely a mental adjustment,” Pierce admitted. “And I think I am making that adjustment and figuring it all out with that role off the bench.”
Never one to pat his own back, Pierce also wanted everyone to know that his best effort as a Net didn’t mean much to him, if it didn’t accompany his main objective as a competitor: Winning.
“It is easy to sit here and talk to you guys about what kind of night I had, but the bottom line is I really don’t care,” he insisted. “We lost the game and that is pretty much all that matters. We came out here and try to win as a team. It is not about how good Paul Pierce is feeling.”
Nothing but Net: C Lopez returned to action Wednesday after missing back-to-back games with an ankle injury. The 7-footer from Stanford scored 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting in just under 32 minutes of action. “I felt fine,” Lopez noted afterward. “I am definitely disappointed in myself though. I felt a little rusty. I was a step slow.” Lopez and the Nets were dominated on the boards by Washington, which held a 51-31 rebounding advantage, including an unsightly 19-5 edge in boards off the offensive glass. “I didn’t do a great job boxing out my guy, whoever it was,” added Lopez, who finished with five rebounds as the Nets gave up 23 second-chance points while scoring only three. … G Deron Williams, continuing a strong comeback after missing several weeks with an ankle injury of his own, put up 15 points and 13 assists Wednesday. … Anderson, starting in Pierce’s spot, went scoreless in 19 minutes, missing all four of his field goal attempts, including a pair of 3-pointers. … G Joe Johnson, coming off his incredible 37-point effort against Philadelphia earlier this week, had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting against the Wizards. … The Nets will be in Philadelphia on Friday night before heading home to host the Indiana Pacers on Monday night.