One drawback of covering a Celtics team with so many terrific writers on the beat is that well, if you have a good idea on a topic/story, there’s a pretty good chance someone else has it too. With that in mind, my idea to write a profile on Pierce’s terrific campaign and value this year during this week, well Paul Flannery of WEEI beat me to the punch on that this morning and made a very compelling case on the captain’s importance to this squad:
For a while it also looked like that comment was going to serve as Pierce’s epitaph for his time in Boston: Great player. Bad teams. Thanks for the memories with Antoine. Have fun in Portland.
But Pierce was granted the rare chance to write another chapter in his legacy when the Celtics not only resisted the urge to trade their top asset, but also surrounded him with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. Over the next four seasons Pierce’s numbers dropped in scoring, rebounding and assists, which was exactly the point. If they hadn’t, the Celtics wouldn’t have worked.
The trade-off was that Pierce was granted a new level of appreciation for his commitment to defense, as well as his willingness to have the ball in his hands and make decisions at the end of games. His numbers have also been remarkably consistent during this stretch, but something deeper has been happening this season.
Pierce is shooting over 50 percent from the floor for the first time in his career. He’s also posting his best free throw percentage, committing fewer turnovers and his defensive rebounding is back to where it was before Garnett arrived. We can go further still into the wonkier realm of advanced stats. According to the +/- numbers on Basketball Value, the Celtics are 19 points better when Pierce is on the court than when he is not. No player in the league has a bigger impact on his team.
Pierce’s statistical improvements have been subtle — and owe more to good health than any newfound skill — but they have been very real. They’ve also only been a part of a larger story.
When the Celtics needed someone to run the team while Rajon Rondo was hurt, he did it. When they need someone to guard the star forwards in this league, he does it while sacrificing at the offensive end. Pierce — because he is Pierce — believes with all his heart that if he absolutely had to go out and drop 25 a night he could still do it, and there are games when he does. Going back to Rivers’ maxim on availability, Pierce has also played every game, which is no small accomplishment on this team.
It’s a fun diversion to try to determine which of the Celtics’ four All-Stars is the most indispensible. They have never won a title without a healthy Garnett, who is by far their best defensive player and always has been. Rondo is the undisputed brain on the court and the creative genius of an otherwise vanilla operation. Allen is the engine that runs their halfcourt sets and the floor-spacing shooter that is so crucial to everyone else’s game.
For whatever reason Pierce is often left out of the conversation. His excellent play has been so ingrained in our consciousness, it’s almost as if he is taken for granted like No. 9 Park or the view of the city from the Mass Ave. Bridge.
Is he the one player the Celtics absolutely must have healthy in order to win a championship? That’s probably still Garnett, but has Pierce been the Celtics’ most valuable player this season? He’s been the most durable, the most versatile and by many objective measures, he’s also been their best player.
Do yourself a favor and check out the full piece, as Flannery sums it up just as well as I could ever hope to.
And while you’re at it, check out Greg Payne’s compliation of Pierce throwdowns this year, another tell tale sign that Pierce is still closer to his apex that we could have ever have imagined this late in his career.