When we think of the greatest players of this generation—those drafted anytime after 1996, say—how quickly does Paul Pierce come to mind? Is he one of the first five names you think of? Ten?
Whatever your answer, we think it might change after tonight. Per ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo:
Next up on the all-time scoring list: No. 17 Jerry West (25,192).
But it’s who's three spots above West—past Reggie Miller and Alex English—that could prove the most compelling chase: longtime teammate Kevin Garnett (25,614).
Of course, Garnett would have to miss considerable time, or even retire, for Pierce to have a shot at KG’s mark. But given how intertwined the two have become—particularly later in their respective careers—there’s a good chance they could decide to ride off into retirement’s sunset together.
Still think Pierce is a questionable first-ballot Hall of Famer? How do 10 All-Star appearances, a Finals MVP and three All-NBA selections suit you?
In the end, it probably doesn’t matter: According to Basketball-Reference.com’s calculations, Pierce has a 98 percent chance of making it to Springfield—first ballot, third ballot or because he broke in and hung a finger-painting of himself beside all of the busts. Whatever way you slice it, he's in.
Maybe some of you need a bit more convincing, the kind of push that only a certified legend of the game—and of the Boston Celtics—can wield.
How about John Havlicek? Here is the longtime Celtics staple speaking about Pierce’s departure to the Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn:
That’s what free agency does, it doesn’t allow you to have that continuity. We never made a trade in 10 years (with the Celtics) and all the people remained the same. It’s a lot different today but I wish him well. He’s one of the best all-around players and the thing I marveled at was his one-on-one ability. I think he’s the best one-on-one player of all Celtics.
Owing to a ground-bound game more reliant on guile than gaudy athleticism, Pierce might well have two or three productive years left in the tank.
Assuming he averages 15 points a game over 70 games per year for the next three years, Pierce would surpass the 28,000-point threshold and—more importantly—the league’s vaunted top 10.
So long as one of Garnett or Dirk Nowitzki bows out, of course. KG seems like the cooperative type. Maybe Pierce can politely ask him to retire.