Despite struggling throughout February 13th's ugly victory over the Chicago Bulls, going 2-of-12 from the field in one of his worst shooting games of the season, Paul Pierce remains the key to any possible surge the Boston Celtics hope to have after the All-Star break.
His shot wasn't falling last night, and it was revealed by Celtics general manager Danny Ainge during the broadcast that Pierce has played through a pinched nerve in his neck earlier in the season, but he still managed to hit a huge three to give the Celtics a five point lead with three minutes left.
Pierce then closed it out with two huge free throws, all in all scoring five of his eight total points in 4:50 of fourth-quarter action.
At the age of 35, it's obvious the 30-point games aren't coming every night anymore. But what makes Pierce such a great player is his ability to contribute in other areas when his tired legs lead to a flat shot.
He finished the Chicago game with six rebounds and six assists, numbers that have become typical since Rajon Rondo went down nine games ago.
The Celtics are 8-1 since, and if any one reason was needed to explain why, it'd be Pierce. In the previous eight contests before the Bulls game, Boston's captain averaged 18.1 points, 9.9 rebounds and 7.2 assists per game. He attempted six free throws and shot 40 percent from behind the three-point line.
These numbers show varied contribution from a player who realized he'd need to do different things if he wanted his team to stay competitive.
His 27-point, 14-rebound, 14-assist historic triple-double against the Denver Nuggets was even more impressive than the 17-point, 13-rebound, 10-assist triple-double against the Miami Heat. Or the 14-point, 11-rebound, seven-assist bomb he dropped in 29 minutes against the Orlando Magic.
Here's his shot chart since Rondo went down.
If his importance to the Celtics was in doubt, let these on/off court numbers squash it. In their last eight games with Pierce on the court, the Celtics have averaged 104.9 points per 100 possessions and allowed just 91.7 points per 100 possessions, giving him an impressive point differential of plus-13.2.
So when he's on the court, Boston's offense is more efficient than the top-10 ranked Houston Rockets, and the defense is over four points per 100 possessions better than the league-leading Indiana Pacers.
Diving deeper into what exactly it is he's doing while on the court, Pierce makes up 33.5 percent of Boston's defensive rebounds, 36.4 percent of their drawn fouls, 23.5 percent of their points and 38.1 percent of their made and attempted three-pointers.
Those figures are huge, and symbolize an incredible influence on the team.
Heading down the stretch after the All-Star break, the Celtics will need Pierce to continue this stretch of stellar play if they want any shot at making noise in the playoffs.
The past two weeks have shown us he still has the ability, it's just a matter of staying healthy and rested.