I have never been a big fan of Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce, but my disdain has to do more with my allegiance to the NBA's other great franchise, rather than anything Pierce has ever done on the court.
Whether I choose to like him or not, the fact remains that Pierce is one of the elite small forwards in the NBA today. If you don't believe me, all you have to do is ask Pierce himself, and he will surely offer you the same opinion.
Pierce has never been one to mince his words. His outspoken nature can be traced to the moment it became clear he would capture his first NBA championship against the Los Angeles Lakers in 2008.
During that year's Finals, Pierce proclaimed himself one of the top five talents in the NBA, and basically likened the Celtics' three-game swing in Los Angeles as a home appearance away from home.
There is truth in Pierce's words, because his Celtics did capture a game on the Lakers' home court, which essentially captured the series for Boston.
Pierce didn't stop there.
He went on to casually hint that Kobe Bryant may not be all that he is cracked up to be, and he immediately proclaimed the Celtics as the prohibitive favorites to repeat in 2009.
An injury to Kevin Garnett robbed the Celtics of an opportunity to repeat in 2009. Instead of gracefully acknowledging this, Pierce went on to say the Lakers' championship of that year was illegitimate due to the Celtics' absence.
Although Pierce calls Los Angeles his birthplace, one would be hard-pressed to find many people in the City of Angels who would claim him, and even less who would actually stand in his corner.
Pierce and Garnett share the label of two players that Lakers' fans love to hate. After Pierce's comments following Game Two of the Celtics' victory against the Orlando Magic, he may be gaining a whole new audience.
Pierce, in a moment of supreme confidence or unbridled arrogance, looked directly in the camera and said the Celtics were going home to close the series out, and then offered a smug smile for added effect.
To be honest, I really don't have a problem with this, because if a player doesn't believe in himself and his team, it's hard to convince anyone else to do the same.
But my opinion is not shared with Celtics' coach Doc Rivers. He expressed his distaste for Pierce' comments, and even went as far to say it's one thing to be confident, and something else entirely to be arrogant.
Pierce's comments were received by his teammates with mixed results, as point guard Rajon Rondo said he backed Pierce, while Ray Allen said Pierce could have displayed better judgement.
The responses of Allen and Rondo are telling, because the latter's response was laced with youth, while Allen's comments reflected those of a player who has learned to humble himself.
Rondo can be forgiven for his comment, because his tenure with the Celtics has mostly been successful.
But maybe Pierce needs to better understand where he came from, in order to realize how he got here.
Pierce has been a star since he donned the Celtics' green, but Boston was a perennial doormat until the brilliance of Danny Ainge found a way to acquire Garnett and Allen prior to the 2008 season.
There was no bravado in those days. Pierce's experience with failure should have been something that humbled him in the face of any future success.
Instead, he traveled the opposite route.
As soon as Pierce was put into a position to succeed he let the world know he had been a great player all along, even top five in the league—the NBA just failed to acknowledge his greatness.
And Pierce is probably a great player in the hearts of the Celtics' faithful, but is he really one of the top five players in today's game?
Hell, is he even a top-five small forward?
Pierce used his defensive effort against LeBron James as an excuse for why his offense suffered in the Celtics' series against Cleveland, but he conveniently dismissed the fact that the NBA's BEST small forward was defending him.
Pierce's explanation for his offensive explosion in Game Two against Orlando could be perceived as a slight to Vince Carter, since Pierce said Carter's offensive abilities didn't necessitate the same level of attention on defense as James.
Again, this is a statement I completely agree with, because Carter and James' names can hardly be uttered in the same sentence, but once again Pierce is only offering half of the story.
Carter will never be confused with a defensive stopper regardless of how much Magic fans want to speak on the contrary. Pierce did take full advantage of Orlando's numerous defensive lapses.
But Pierce' lack of humility is puzzling, and the comments that leave his mouth remind me of a younger Kobe Bryant in the 2001 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.
After Game Two of that series, Bryant famously said the Lakers were going to Philadelphia to rip the Sixers' hearts out. Even though that was the main focus, the timing of Bryant's comment showed his immaturity.
Bryant's statement lingered in the hearts of Philly fans, and to this day, he is booed mercilessly whenever the Lakers make a trip to his hometown.
But Bryant's lack of humility in that instance can be credited to his youth. Pierce can make no such claim, since his career has spanned the better part of 13 seasons.
Allen said it best when he said the Orlando Magic are still the defending Eastern Conference champions, and Pierce's comments may have aroused the pride which has been previously missing in the Magic.
I still choose to side with Pierce in this case.
In my opinion, his words conveyed the true meaning of the Celtics' purpose, and even though it may have been untimely, that doesn't make it false.
However, Pierce should know better than to give motivation when none exists. If the Magic didn't understand the urgency of their plight before, Pierce has surely ushered them into the present.
I am fully confident Boston will win this series and bring us closer to an anticipated NBA Finals re-match with the Lakers—but if Orlando should make a series out of this, then Pierce will have no one but himself to blame.
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