Pierce becomes a stopper in slowing down Bryant

Times Staff Writer

Not many players willingly accept the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant.

Paul Pierce did.

Now he and the Boston Celtics are on the brink of an NBA championship.

At halftime of Game 4 of the NBA Finals on Thursday night, Pierce cornered Coach Doc Rivers, asking to guard Bryant.

“I felt like I could be a little more physical on him,” Pierce said. “I didn’t think he could post me as easy as he wanted to . . . I’m a little bit taller than Ray [Allen], so I can get a hand up. Challenge him a little bit more.”

He challenged him -- taking advantage of going into the second half without a foul -- and Bryant misfired on nine of his 15 shots to close the game.


Pierce has long been considered an offensive player, but his defense started raising eyebrows when he closely shadowed the Cleveland Cavaliers’ LeBron James in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

“I think people will look at his offense,” Rivers said afterward. “But I thought we won the game because Paul was a tremendous defensive player [Thursday].”

Starters limited

Nice Boston bounce back.

Even more so considering the Celtics did it in the fourth quarter without two of their starters.

Of course, neither was one of the Big Three.

Joking with reporters before the game, second-year point guard Rajon Rondo pointed at his bruised left ankle, diagnosing it at a scientific “89.4%.”

He added that by game time, he hoped it would near 100%.

It didn’t and Rondo wasn’t anything near normal.

Rondo, who sustained the injury in the third quarter of Game 3 and missed most of that second half, started and played with the ankle heavily taped.

He lasted only 17 minutes and did not play in the fourth quarter, ending an abbreviated night with five points and two assists.

Center Kendrick Perkins also left in the third quarter because of a left shoulder strain. He had two points and one rebound in 13 minutes and battled foul trouble before his injury.