Both Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett have served as vital pieces towards the Boston Celtics’ success this year. However, it is Paul Pierce whose production ultimately decides whether the team sinks or swims.
Does that really surprise anyone?
Since being drafted by the Celtics in 1998 with the 10th overall pick, Pierce has been nothing but loyal to the city of Boston. He’s been through the ups—winning the NBA title during the 2007-08 season—and he’s been through the downs—six losing seasons. Yet no matter what, he has never once demanded to be traded.
Pierce might be Boston’s leading scorer for the past 12 seasons, but he has been the team’s heart and soul for all 14 years of his career.
That has not been more evident than it is this year.
Without Pierce, the Celtics would not even be thinking about a second-half turnaround right now.
At 35, you’d expect Pierce’s production to be in decline.
Instead, his numbers only seem to be on the rise.
Through 34 games this season, Pierce is averaging 19.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game in 33.6 minutes a night. His marks in points and rebounds are his highest since the 2008-09 season.
Per 36 minutes—21.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.2 assists—Pierce is having his best all-around season since the pre-Big Three days.
And yes, the 14-year veteran still has the occasional monster games in his arsenal.
Pierce has recorded 25 or more points in eight games already this season. That includes three performances with 30-plus points.
A lot of that has to do with Pierce’s rediscovery of his three-point touch.
Pierce currently leads the team, shooting 38.6 percent from beyond the arc. He has averaged 2.1 three-pointers made per game—the third-highest mark of his career. Pierce currently ranks No. 17 in the league in the category.
As expected, when Pierce has to take a seat, Boston’s offensive production suffers.
With Pierce on the court, the Celtics average 105.5 points per 100 possessions. But when he’s off the court, that number drops to 97.7 points per 100 possessions. Furthermore, Boston shoots 51.1 percent when Pierce is on the court, while shooting just 45.8 percent when he’s off.
No other player on the Celtics’ roster has that big of an impact on the team’s offense.
Throughout his career, Pierce has been known for thriving during the pressure moments. If Boston needed a big shot, you could bet the ball would be in the hands of No. 34.
This year has been no different.
You only need to go as far back as Monday night for Pierce’s latest addition to his clutch collection.
With only a four-point cushion, Pierce dribbled the shot clock down to its dying embers. With Tyson Chandler draped all over him, Pierce lifted up and drained a bucket that only he could make look so easy.
Game. Set. Match.
Pierce has hit that similar kind of shot throughout his career. Last year against the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference Finals pops to mind.
But, Pierce does not just wait until the final seconds to turn his game up. He takes his game to a higher level in the entire second half.
In the final two quarters, Pierce shoots 48.1 percent from the floor and 45.4 percent from three-point range. More specifically, he has shot 51.0 percent on mid-range jumpers and 51.2 percent from above the break.
Take the Celtics’ 89-81 victory over the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 5:
During the third quarter, Boston outscored the Hawks 33-9. Pierce scored 17 of his 26 points during the period, shooting 6-of-9 from the field. He also had three rebounds and two assists in the quarter.
Then there’s the 108-100 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Nov. 23.
Pierce scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half. He scored 11 in each the third and fourth quarters. He shot 6-of-9 from the field in the half.
Being clutch is in a players DNA. It’s something that just does not leave.
Pierce is a perfect example of that.
Pierce might have conceded his leadership role to Rondo during the preseason. However, his actions during the season have told a completely different story.
A great leader leads by example, takes responsibility for his shortcomings and refocuses the team when needed.
This season, it’s been Pierce, not Rondo, who has accomplished these things.
For starters, there was the way Pierce rallied the troops following their Jan. 2 defeat to the Memphis Grizzlies. The loss marked the Celtics fourth in a row and their eighth in 10 games.
Pierce could have easily pointed the blame at the refs, the coaching staff or his teammates. Instead, he chose to remind the team that they can be just as good as any team out there.
It must have worked, since Boston is 3-0 since he spoke out.
Then there was his halftime locker room speech during their Jan. 5 meeting with the Hawks.
After an awful half that saw the Celtics fall behind 53-38, the team began pointing fingers at each other. Some players even took offence to criticism from head coach Doc Rivers.
That’s when Pierce stepped in and directed his teammates to take out their anger on the opposition. Boston outscored Atlanta 51-28 the rest of the way.
Pierce might be getting up in years, but this is still his team.
Summing It All Up
What Pierce is accomplishing this season is amazing. By performing at this high a level, he is defying all expectations.
It has made us all wonder: How long can he continue doing this?
At the pace he’s going, it should take him only two more seasons to break John Havlicek’s Celtics’ all-time scoring record.
Then he can go down in history as one of the greatest players in the franchise’s storied history.
Maybe even the greatest.
We’ll leave that debate for another time.
All stats used in this article are accurate as of January 8, 2013
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