Paul Pierce and I have been through a lot over the last few years.
As a player, he’s suffered through one of the most inept front offices in professional sports, one of the worst coaches in professional sports (no, not Doc…I’m talking about that fraud Rick Pitino), and a few of the worst seasons in Celtics history.
He has also suffered from a Boston media that loves to criticize everything he does on a basketball court, and a fan base that seemingly blames him for all of the hard times the Celtics have gone through recently.
As a fan, I’ve suffered through losing season after losing season—rebuilding project after rebuilding project. But I've always contended that Paul Pierce could be great. He just needed some help.
When Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen were acquired last offseason, Paul Pierce became the third wheel of the new Big Three in the minds of the NBA talking heads.
Those talking heads couldn’t have been more wrong.
Pierce has been the most consistent player on the best team in the Eastern Conference all season long. He had his best defensive season and an extremely efficient offensive season.
Instead of getting the credit he deserved, he was bashed in Boston for not “taking over games” and was constantly forced to take a back seat to Kevin Garnett in the minds of those who cover and root for his team.
Through it all, he remained the Captain.
He remained their best scoring threat and their most underrated defensive player.
He remained their best all-around player.
When he drew the assignment to cover LeBron James, he didn’t complain. He didn’t tell reporters and fans how stupid they were for questioning his offensive output in a series where he was covering the best offensive player in the game.
He just kept playing.
He was the best player on the floor in the fourth quarter of game five, but that wasn’t enough for Celtics’ fans.
They questioned his performance in game six, even though the officiating was so slanted that nobody could have succeeded in his position (remember the “charge” in the fourth quarter?).
Game seven, they said, was the biggest game of his career.
If he failed, if his team lost, then he was a failure.
Forget about everything he’s done. Forget that he led a pathetic Celtics team to the playoffs a few short years ago. Forget that he led an undermanned team to the Eastern Conference finals a few years before that.
Forget that his supporting cast has been worse than Kevin Garnett’s over the course of his career. None of that matters. If the Celtics lost on Sunday, then Pierce was a failure.
That’s completely and utterly unfair, but it was okay with Pierce. He took the unfair pressure and turned it into the best game of his career.
Paul Pierce channeled his inner Larry Bird and single-handedly willed the Celtics to victory. He had a game seven for the ages.
He earned the right to be mentioned among the greatest postseason performers in Celtics history.
If the Celtics go on to defeat the Pistons, it will be because of Pierce.
If they win an NBA championship, it will be because of Pierce.
Kevin Garnett changed the landscape in Boston. He made them a great team. He was probably the MVP of the Eastern Conference in the regular season.
But Paul Pierce has something that he doesn’t. Something that you need on your team if you're going to win a championship.
Paul Pierce not only has the ability to take over big games, but he demands to take over big games.
He wants the ball in his hands when the game’s on the line.
Kevin Garnett, for all his greatness, doesn’t demand the ball when the game is on the line. It’s not his style. He’s never going to pull a Cedric Maxwell and tell everyone to get on his back. He’s just not that guy.
Paul Pierce, for better or worse, is that guy.
He might not make every big shot, but he wants to take them. That makes him better than most. That’s what makes Paul Pierce great. That’s what makes him the key to the Celtics’ playoff future.
That’s what will one day have his jersey number up in the rafters with the rest of the Celtics’ greats.
Sean Crowe is a Senior Writer at Bleacher Report. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. His archive can be found here. You can find everything he writes, including articles for other publications, here