TORONTO - The playoffs are becoming an expensive time for Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri.
Over the past 12 months, Ujiri and his team have contributed $85,000 US to the NBA's swear jar.
Fittingly, the latest penalty came down on the one-year anniversary of his memorable "[expletive] Brooklyn" jeer. Returning to the scene of the crime - a stage overlooking Maple Leaf Square - ahead of Saturday's playoff opener, Ujiri told thousands of fired up fans the Raptors don't "give a [expletive]" about Paul Pierce's recent comments that Toronto doesn't have the "it" factor.
The league fined Ujiri $35,000 US, a steeper price than last year's punishment, for "using obscene language in a public setting" and hit the Raptors organization with an additional $25,000 penalty.
All the while Pierce is probably having a good laugh.
After 17 seasons in the league, Pierce knows exactly how the game is played, both on and off the court. The 37-year-old has happily made himself the face of this first-round series between Toronto and Washington.
"I think I can play psychological war a little bit better than him," the veteran forward told reporters in response to Ujiri after leading the Wizards to a 93-86 Game 1 victory.
They may not "give a [expletive]" about him, but he's in their heads, which is precisely the idea. For the fifth straight day, Dwane Casey and his Raptors players faced questions regarding Pierce's trash talking. Understandably, some of them are getting tired of it.
"This is the last day I’m going to answer anything about Paul Pierce," said back-up point guard Greivis Vasquez following a Sunday afternoon film session. "Paul Pierce is a Hall of Famer that knows what he’s doing. Give him a lot of credit. He has you guys’ attention, he has everybody’s attention and if we keep talking about Paul Pierce, this is going to be a Paul Pierce series. It’s not going to be the Wizards, it’s just Paul Pierce. But what he’s doing is motivating his team, talking trash, so why would we talk trash?"
"So, you know, he does what he does," he continued. "We respect that. We give him a lot of credit. He’s got big balls. That’s the reason he’s The Truth. He’s The Truth for a reason. What else can I tell you? Good for him. He’s a Hall of Famer. We love his game. I’m a big fan, I have a picture of him, too. He’s an animal. So that’s it. We just have to play. Paul Pierce is going to be Paul Pierce. I think that you guys have to stop asking all of us questions about Paul Pierce. Let him do the talking, and we’ll see at the end who’s going to win the series."
To suggest that Pierce's off-court antics had any resounding effect on Saturday's outcome is a stretch. The Raptors are not losing sleep over it. His remarks are only a distraction at the podium or in scrums, if at all.
"I believe we don't pay attention to comments," Patrick Patterson said. "I would like to think that we don't. We do read it, but as far as talking about it in the locker room amongst everybody, nobody says anything."
So why does he bother? It's more for Pierce's benefit than Toronto's. He loves the attention and he's proven he can handle it.
"I don't mind playing the role of underdog or villain or whatever you guys want to call it," he said after the sellout Air Canada Centre crowd welcomed him back with boos and "Paul Pierce sucks" chants. "If that's the role you're going to play, I just have to embrace it."
That he did. Lost in the war of words, Pierce can still play. He scored a game-high 20 points on 7-of-10 shooting in 36 minutes Saturday. That, more than his psychological warfare, is what the Raptors are justifiably concerned about.
"I guess Paul has done it before," Casey said. "I’m sure it’s been done before in the NBA and he’s got a championship so I guess he’s been successful at it. I haven’t seen very many times where people talk themselves into winning a game."
"Paul is a great player, his play speaks for itself more so than anything that’s put in print."