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As Pierce gets older and more beat up, his foot speed decreases and his man-to-man defense struggles. He gets outrun by just about every small forward under the age of 30, and looks overmatched by larger opponents in the post more than ever before.
For the Celtics to have a shot at making a legitimate championship threat, the Truth will need to play impeccable defense against 28-year-old All-Stars LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony.
Let's examine King James as Exhibit A: in the March 18 loss to the Heat, the Celtics got posterized in more ways than one, allowing James to score 37 points on 16-of-29 shooting. He also added 12 assists and seven boards.
Jan. 27 was not much better. Pierce's counterpart put up 34 points (14-of-31) with 16 rebounds and seven assists. Sure, it was a double-overtime victory for the Celts, but Pierce has to contain LeBron much better than that.
James loves bringing his A-game to Boston. And the rivalry between these squads has recently heated up (no pun intended). If Pierce keeps letting him average 30 or more, the team in green stands no chance to advance (no rhyme intended).
The same goes for the New York Knicks' Carmelo, who posted 28 points and nine boards in their win in Boston Jan. 24. And Brooklyn exposed Pierce a bit last time they squared off, unleashing crafty veteran Gerald Wallace for 15 points on 4-of-7 shooting.
Perhaps most alarming, Pierce averages one fewer steal per 48 minutes since the All-Star game, dropping to 0.8. And he's committing 0.7 more fouls per game. This unfortunate seesawing seems to further highlight his slowed feet and hurting legs.
Fans will closely monitor the captain's defense in the two upcoming games against the Knicks in late March, as well as respective April dates with the Heat and Nets.
Either Pierce will prove his readiness to lead Boston's D to another Finals push, or his body will show that it's ready for him to book the offseason fishing trip. Expect more of the former than the latter, as he almost always steps up defensively in big playoff games.