Paul Pierce is playing with a pinched nerve in his neck

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Paul Pierce has been playing in pain all season.

If you saw the slight downtick in his scoring numbers — scoring 18.5 points a game, one less than last year, shooting 41.5 percent, down from 44.3 percent — you could easily attribute that to age for the 35-year-old who still carries a heavy scoring load for Boston.

But it’s more than that, he’s been playing with a pinched nerve in his neck all season, he told Jessica Camerato of CSNNE.com.

“It’s something that’s been bothering me probably like the last two months,” Pierce said after the Celtics 71-69 win over the Chicago Bulls. “It’s getting better, though. The last couple of weeks, it’s been better than it has been.”

Note to Dwight Howard: This is how you handle things. Don’t complain to the media, don’t make excuses, play as hard as you can through everything and let the chips fall where they fall. If you put out the effort, fans are amazingly forgiving.

And Pierce puts out the effort. He has had to take on a larger playmaking and scoring role since Rajon Rondo went down, and he didn’t blink. In fact, the Celtics have won seven of eight.

He will have to put out a lot more effort in the stretch run of the regular season and the playoffs if Boston is going to make any kind of run. You know he will give it his all.