BOSTON: When Paul Pierce’s hall of fame biography is eventually penned, he can devote an entire chapter to the ways he has tormented the Cavaliers. His performance Wednesday night will merit at least a page or two.
On a night when the Cavs were playing without Anderson Varejao, Pierce was at his very best. He scored a season-high 40 points, including 17 during a sensational third quarter in the Celtics’ 103-91 victory over the Cavaliers.
Thanks in large part to Pierce’s 13-of-16 shooting performance, the Celtics shot 60 percent for the game. Cavs coach Byron Scott would typically leave the arena livid after that type of display, but with Alonzo Gee flanked all over him, Pierce still carried the Celtics.
“There was nothing we could do with him,” Scott said. “A great player like that, a future hall of famer, sometimes they get it going and there’s really nothing much you can do. I haven’t seen him play that way in a while. Sometimes you just gotta pat him on the butt and say great job.”
At 35 years and 67 days old, Pierce became the oldest player in Celtics history to score at least 40 points in a regulation game. He became the second-oldest to do it in any game behind Larry Bird’s 49-point performance in a double-overtime game when he was 35 years, 99 days old.
Scott has long hailed Gee as one of the league’s best perimeter defenders, but not on this night. Kobe Bryant scored 42 on Gee last week, and Pierce followed with another big night. Gee did everything he could to slow down Pierce — including asking him nicely.
“I was like, ‘Man, calm down a little bit,’ ” Gee said. “He said, ‘I’m just trying to make you better.’ ”
As Pierce was leaving TD Garden, he stopped long enough to give Gee a handshake and a pat on the back.
“It’s hard to stop a player like that once he gets going,” Gee said.
When Pierce was lifted in the third quarter, the Celtics led by 19 and built it to 80-60 seconds later. Kyrie Irving did his best to bring the Cavs back, scoring 10 points in the final three minutes.
The Cavs nearly erased that 20-point deficit in six minutes, pulling within 82-80 on a three-point play by Tyler Zeller with 9:04 to play.
Celtics coach Doc Rivers scrambled to get Pierce back in the game shortly before that. He and Rajon Rondo ensured the Celtics wouldn’t let the game get away.
Trailing 88-84, the Cavaliers turned the ball over on four consecutive possessions and the Celtics converted each time. In two minutes, that four-point deficit was suddenly 96-84, sending the Cavs to their fifth consecutive defeat and 10th in 11 games.
“We just needed to get stops,” Irving said. “I turned the ball over back-to-back times and they scored on each of those possessions. I think that changed the game.”
All five Cavs starters finished in double figures in scoring. Irving had 22 points and Tyler Zeller had a career-high 20 points in an impressive spot start replacing Varejao, who missed the game with a bruised knee. Varejao and Daniel Gibson (sprained right ankle) both worked out during the pregame, but neither was able to play. Gibson still had swelling in his right foot and ankle area. Neither injury is considered serious, and neither player is expected to miss much time.
Scott thought the Celtics’ ability to hold off the Cavaliers’ charge was simply the difference between the Cavs’ youth and the Celtics’ experience.
“They’re a very good basketball team. A lot of experience, got some guys over there that are champions,” Scott said. “We have to learn from that. We have to figure out a way to close games out, and as young as we are, we’re going to keep learning from it. It’s all we can do. I give our guys a lot of credit for not quitting. We could’ve packed it in when we were down  points, and we kept playing.”
Jason Lloyd can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Cavs blog at http://www.ohio.com/cavs. Follow him on Twitter http://www.twitter.com/JasonLloydABJ. Follow ABJ sports on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.