Paul Pierce has been the go-to guy on the Boston Celtics for years. When the game clock winds down, you can usually expect the ball to be in his hands. But is Pierce still the best option to take the last shot?
To be considered "clutch" in the NBA, a player must have a number of characteristics. First, he must perform well in high-pressure situations without becoming overwhelmed and choking. While many players are capable of giving great physical performances, a clutch player gives an equally great mental performance. Under these terms, Pierce is definitely clutch.
In the 2011-12 season, Pierce ranked among the top 10 NBA players in clutch production. The stats on 82games.com define "clutch" as the fourth quarter or overtime with less than five minutes left and neither team ahead by more than five points.
Per 48 minutes of clutch time, Pierce averaged 38.3 points last season. His field-goal percentage was 51, while his crucial free-throw percentage was 75. Overall, he wasn't spectacular, but he performed way better than his Celtics teammates during crunch time.
However, the 2012-13 season brings a different factor into the equation. His name is Jason Terry.
During his time in Dallas, Terry was the go-to guy in the clutch for the Mavericks—arguably even more than Dirk Nowitzki. Per 48 minutes of clutch time, Terry averaged 34.8 points last season. He shot 49 percent from the field in crunch time, but his free-throw percentage was 94. It's important to add that Terry had fewer free-throw attempts than Pierce, though.
Boston has two players who have proven they can perform in crunch time. It wouldn't be terrible for the ball to end up in either Pierce or Terry's hands. However, as the final seconds count down, which one should Doc Rivers call the last play for?
Paul Pierce still needs to take that final shot. Until there is proof that he has lost his touch, the ball needs to be in his hands.
Last postseason, Pierce reminded us why his name is still thrown around with the best closers in the NBA. In Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Pierce hit a three-pointer over LeBron James with 53 seconds left in the fourth quarter to seal the 94-90 win for the Celtics.
Even though Pierce was 5-of-18 before knocking down that three, he still knew how to make it count when his team needed him most.
When asked about his clutch performance, Pierce said (via SLAM):
"That's just being in those moments so many times. And understanding what your team needs, and being able to concentrate and get the best shot for us. I thought that was our best shot."
What sets Pierce apart from other NBA players is that he wants that pressure on him. In fact, he performs better when the game is down to the wire. While his play during the first 47 minutes of the game may be slowing down, you still want the ball in his hands in that last minute.
At 35 years old, Pierce's game is slowing down. He's playing less minutes and not scoring as many points as he did in his younger days. However, it's not how many points a player scores that matters—it's when they score those points.
They call him The Truth for a reason.