Following the 131-92 drubbing the Lakers suffered at the hands of the Celtics last night, many players start heading in different directions at the crossroads of their career.
Many wondered before the series if Kobe could reach MJ heights by leading the Lakers to a title this season; however, it was evident that a few other players benefited a lot more from the outcome of this series. An NBA title can do wonders for the way a player is perceived historically because there are plenty of great teams, but at the end of the year, "There can only be one."
He took his game to new heights during the postseason as he became the de facto leader of the "Big Three." With Kevin Garnett playing streaky and shying away in big moments as well as Ray Allen's comatose approach to rounds one and two, Pierce was forced to carry a heavier offensive load.
Pierce has toughed out some tough years in Boston including last year's painful fiasco. Yet, he's been the face of the franchise throughout these down times netting six All-Star appearances and leading a short-handed team to the Eastern Conference finals along with Antoine Walker.
This postseason however he proved he could be the go-to-guy, evidenced by his game seven performance against the Cavaliers where he matched LeBron James shot for shot. In the NBA Finals he showed he could play both ends of the floor by helping hold Kobe Bryant to humane levels of scoring.
This incredible performance has launched Pierce into the 50 Greatest Players All-Time in the NBA. If you don't believe me just look how he compares to these other two all-time greats.
Paul Pierce—23.1 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.9 apg; 1 NBA championship, 1 Finals MVP
Julius Erving—24.2 ppg, 8.5 rpg, 4.2 apg; 1 NBA championship, 2 ABA Championships
Clyde Drexler—20.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 5.6 apg; 1 NBA championship
Some may try to make the argument that Pierce's statistics got a little inflated by playing for poor teams for an extended stretch of his career. However, in 2005-2006 Pierce led the top 30 scorers in the league in points-per-shot average.
He's always been an unselfish player which helped him mold these Celtics into champions with so many offseason transactions. This NBA Finals performance throws Pierce in with the 50 Greatest Players All-Time.
Going into the series it would have appeared that Garnett had the most to gain out of any of the Celtics if he netted his first championship ring. However, Garnett didn't play great basketball for most of the series and showed why he serves better as a number two scoring option rather than the go-to-guy.
Garnett can now be remembered as one of the greatest power forwards ever and won't have that monkey hanging on his back that plagues Karl Malone. The minute the Celtics signed Garnett they became a championship contender and that cannot be overstated enough.
For all of Garnett's offensive struggles, they would not have won this series without him. His defensive prowess makes this team run effectively and helped the Celtics dominate the paint throughout the series. The Lakers did not have a single offensive rebound until the fourth quarter in game six as Garnett dominated Pau Gasol once again.
Garnett was the Defensive Player of the Year and provided the emotional backbone for this Celtics team all season long. He was the Defensive Player of the Year and helped keep the offensive-minded Lakers at bay all series long. He helped turn show time into no time and earned his first ring.
It remains to be seen whether he had tired out or was just upset over the fact that his new resurgence didn't warrant a "He Got Game" sequel, but in the NBA Finals he went from being the reason why the Celtics lost in the playoffs to an important piece in their Finals quest.
Ray hit rock bottom when he failed to score in game one of the Cleveland series and struggled pretty much the rest of the conference semi-finals. However, he started to come back to life against the Pistons and by the end of the series looked to be shaping up for a push in the Finals.
Allen may have provided the defining moment of the postseason as he blew past Sasha Vujacic, capping off an impressive game four comeback in Los Angeles. Even Papa Shuttlesworth (Denzel Washington) had to be impressed by the beautiful drive to the lane.
Ray Allen is now probably one of the top 10—maybe top five—shooting guards of this NBA era after having put together a wonderful NBA season. The championship only adds to the legacy of a guy who has been a solid presence throughout his eleven years in the league.
It's time to officially end any talk of comparing Kobe Bryant to Michael Jordan. Kobe just hasn't reached that level especially after allowing his team to get beat up by 39 points in the deciding game of the NBA Finals.
When Jordan played it seemed as if everyone he played with thoroughly enjoyed being on the court with him. Scottie Pippen had the talent to be his own star in the NBA but stayed with Jordan to play Robin to his Batman while winning NBA title after NBA title.
Kobe won an MVP award this year after openly griping about the quality of his teammates and demanding a trade at the beginning of the season. Throughout every game you can catch him shooting terrifying glares at teammates when they make mistakes and openly yelling at them during timeouts.
It's going to be hard to bring in the right role players to help win a championship when Kobe will be the one making sure they know their role.
Kobe is one of the greatest talents of all time but barring a sudden change of attitude, he will always be a poor teammate. This NBA Finals series only further revealed his flaws and showed he hasn't reached the heights of Jordan. I wouldn't even be surprised if Kobe hasn't spoken a word to one of his teammates yet. Oh well, he can always demand a trade later this year.