The C's live and die with Pierce and Garnett.
But while the duo has certainly struggled at times this season, age cannot be held largely responsible.
In fact, it’s been the least of their problems.
The Celtics are currently 34-29 and have won five of their last seven games. They’re quickly rising up the Eastern Conference standings.
However, unlike seasons past, Boston has not relied solely on the production of Garnett and Pierce.
Whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing is yet to be seen.
Statistically speaking, both Garnett and Pierce are having lackluster years. But while their overall stat lines may resemble what they generally put up, the efficiency in how they reach those numbers is on the decline.
Is this something the Celtics should be concerned about or is this simply just a phase?
For the answer, let’s take a closer look.
The usually reliable Pierce has seen his shot accuracy dip significantly over the past two seasons.
Through 62 games this year, the 35-year-old is shooting 42.6 percent from the floor—his lowest mark since 2004 and the third lowest of his career. Pierce is also connecting on 37.2 percent of his attempts from three-point range and 78.8 percent from the free-throw line.
In 61 games during the lockout-shortened 2011-12 season, Pierce shot 44.3 percent from the field and 36.6 percent from beyond the arc. He also sunk 85.2 percent of his attempts from the charity stripe.
From the outset, Pierce’s numbers over the two seasons look nearly identical. But further analysis shows that that’s not entirely the case.
They also follow four straight seasons of 46 percent shooting or higher. That includes a career-best 49.7 percent during the 2010-11 season.
But old legs and exhaustion are not the cause of this drop.
More so, it’s all a result of Pierce’s evolving shooting tendencies.
For starters, after averaging just 12.8 field-goal attempts per game in 2010-11, Pierce has averaged 14.6 attempts per game in each of the past two seasons.
Furthermore, his five three-point field-goal attempts per game is his highest mark since the 2006-07 season and the third highest of his career.
But the most drastic alteration comes in Pierce’s willingness to take it to the rim.
During the 2010-11 season, Pierce took 32.4 percent of his shots at the rim—within three feet of the hoop. He was very successful from this range, converting on 69.7 percent of his attempts.
The following year, much remained the same. But while Pierce’s percent of attempts at the rim actually increased (35.1 percent), his success rate dropped to 64.7 percent.
This season marked dramatic changes in both categories. Not only did Pierce’s percent of attempts at the rim significantly drop to 22.1 percent, but he only finished 58.7 percent of these attempts successfully.
This could be due to Pierce no longer possessing the ability to beat his defender off the ball anymore. Opponents have chosen to double-team him more frequently.
Thus, without any other option, or due to frustration, Pierce has instead been forced to attempt longer shots or to pass the ball.
Garnett has been struggling with his shot as well.
Need proof? Don’t look any further than his 7-of-29 (24.1 percent) stretch from the field over his last two games.
But Garnett’s struggles have been here all season long.
Through 62 games, the 36-year-old is shooting 48.9 percent from the field. In comparison, he shot 50.3 percent from the floor in 60 games last year.
In fact, Garnett’s shooting mark is his lowest since 2007 and the third lowest of his career.
His downfall has come with his trademark jump shot.
Last season, 56.9 percent of Garnett’s field-goal attempts came from 16-22 feet. He connected on 47.7 percent of these shots.
This year, only 39.2 percent of Garnett’s shots have come within that same range. He’s also only knocking down 45.6 percent of these attempts.
As you can see, Garnett has shied away from taking as many jump shots from his favorite spot on the floor. Whether it’s the opposition’s defense or different game planning, Garnett has attacked from different areas on the floor.
However, as they say, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
Garnett has been around the league for 17 years. Sooner or later, he’s going to return to the comfort of his bread and butter.
Pierce has always made a reputation for himself as a big-time scorer in the league.
Unfortunately, that has not been the case this season.
Thus far, Pierce is averaging 18.7 points per game. That’s down from the 19.4 per game he averaged last season and is the third lowest total in his 15-year career.
Garnett can also relate.
This season the big man is averaging 14.8 points per game—his third lowest total of his career. In comparison, Garnett averaged 15.8 per game last season.
So what gives?
As mentioned earlier, poor shot selection has hurt both players. They’re taking uncomfortable shots and their averages are suffering because of it.
But a bigger reason for the decline is that Garnett and Pierce have filled additional roles on the team. Especially since Rajon Rondo has been out.
In the 19 games following the injury, Pierce has filled somewhat of a point-forward position. Along with his point production, he’s averaging 8.1 rebounds and 7.1 assists per game.
Pierce has not only helped score points for Boston, but he’s also helping to involve others on the team. Not to mention, his contributions on rebounding have been extremely beneficial for a team that is lacking in the category.
Garnett has followed suit.
In the same 19-game period, Garnett has averaged 9.6 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He’s essentially doing all the little things on defense that has helped the Celtics limit the opposition’s offense.
During the team’s first 43 games, Garnett recorded 10 or more rebounds 12 times. He’s accomplished the feat 10 times since.
Both Garnett and Pierce are helping push Boston to the next level. Not by scoring, but by ensuring that every player on the roster is playing as one.
At the end of the day, is not winning more important than scoring?
Summing It All Up
Let’s be honest. Without Garnett and Pierce, the Celtics would be doomed. We had a good glimpse of that during Tuesday night’s 100-74 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats.
Sure, their stats might be down this season. But who ever said that stats alone will win you ball games?
It won’t. You need a lot more than that.
Luckily for Boston, Garnett and Pierce possess what is necessary.
That makes the Celtics one of the deadliest teams to face in the playoffs this season.
Also check out: Grading Initial Performance of Celtics' New Bench Players