After last night Celtic faithful have something to proud of, regardless of the ultimate result of the NBA Finals.
As Tony Allen carried Celtics captain Paul Pierce off the court, with help from the Human Victory Cigar, Brian Scalabrine, the season was over. There would be no Green 17. The NBA Finals would be over within five games. The ratings bonanza that the NBA had hoped for would pop off like Pierce’s knee had just done after a collision with teammate Kendrick Perkins, and just as bottles would do for the Los Angeles Lakers within a 10 days.
It was certain. Until Pierce pulled out his best Willis Reed impression, the one every athlete dreams about in the dark, in time to lead his team to an essential game one victory.
Pierce’s performance made his Reed-like comeback even more impressive. And unlike the Knick legend, who scored only 4 points in his famous game 7 effort, Pierce led the offense in the second half with 11 points after hurting his knee, including back-to-back triples that propelled the Green ahead for good. Pierce’s return was more than a mere morale boost.
The media have focused on Kevin Garnett primarily as the fuel that fires the Celtic engine, but they have missed with their analysis. Garnett is the MVP, the man who posts the best numbers and leads the defense, but without Paul Pierce, this team has no shot.
In an attempt to understand Pierce’s place on his 79-win (and counting) squad you must look first at Boston’s roster. No other player packs the offensive versatility of Pierce. Tommy Heinsohn has called Pierce the best offensive player in the history of the franchise–and he’s very nearly seen them all.
The Truth’s diverse attack and complete game are irreplaceable. There is literally no other player in the entire world of basketball quite like him. There are better players, many of them, but none with the ability to play both the 2 and the 3 for full seasons at a time (Pierce was a gunslinging shooting guard during the days of Antoine Walker and Jim O’Brien, but seamlessly shifted to the small forward position with the arrival of Ray Allen), and the rebounding skill to effectively play the 4 at times.
If you look at the PER leaders for each position, Pierce’s talents become more obvious. He finished with the league’s fourth best Player Efficiency Rating from the small forward spot, a great metric, but one that even fails to accurately measure the Inglewood native’s best defensive season yet. Essentially, other than LeBron James, Paul Pierce is the best swingman in the entire league. The problem is there are many more talented scoring and combo guards and big men than most realize, which means that Pierce remains outside the top 15 active players, but is the most irreplaceable player on the Celtic roster.
When Kevin Garnett went down with an abdominal strain earlier this season, the team managed a 7-2 record with the insertion of Leon Powe and Brian Scalabrine into The Big Ticket’s slot. With Paul Pierce out, James Posey and the still-hobbled Tony Allen will not be able to carry the distinct offensive load that Pierce brings to the table, and the Celtics will wither against their formidable opponents, the Los Angeles Lakers.
He was nearly stabbed to death once, he played through mediocrity and carried his team the way Kobe chose to do prior to the emergence of Andrew Bynum and the fleecing of Chris Wallace begat Pau Gasol, and he’s battled imaturity, sometimes frustratingly so under the spotlight of the playoffs.
But as last night proved, the time has come to recognize the evolution of Boston’s captain, and give him a new name.
The Truth is now Captain Clutch.