We are spending some time looking back over the Boston Celtics championship season… in an effort to truly appreciate the efforts of those involved. In the first three installments, we’ve appreciated Doc Rivers, Danny Ainge, and the Team Owners. We then spent time appreciating our key bench players, like PJ Brown, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Eddie House, and James Posey. Over the past week, we’ve appreciated our starters: Kendrick Perkins, Rajon Rondo, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. The thirteenth installment of our fifteen part series is our final player appreciation.
Rick Pitino did something right.
Not only did he take Paul Pierce in 1998… he held onto him. No small feat for Rick.
That era seems so long ago, it’s almost amazing to think that Paul Pierce was a part of it. Actually, when you think about it, Pierce might have seen the absolute lowest points of this franchise’s history. He saw Pitino do his damage, and suffered through last year’s debacle. Maybe it was necessary for him to suffer so he could do what he did this year. Maybe it wasn’t. But it does make this year’s effort from the captain all the more special.
For once, Paul Pierce didn’t have to do it all on offense. And that resulted in Paul having more energy to expend on the defensive end. Pierce has been unfairly criticized as a bad defender throughout his career. Though, to be fair, many of those experts also picked the Lakers in 5. Paul has always been a solid defender… but he’s always had to do so many other things. This year, we saw what he could do when he wasn’t asked to create his own shot for 42 minutes a game. But he could still create his own shot if he needed to.
Let’s all be clear about something here: If Paul Pierce didn’t engage in that shootout with LeBron James, the Celtics would not be NBA champions. I’m not talking about the fact that the Celtics won that game. I’m talking about the mere fact that Paul Pierce… in the biggest game of his career… with the weight of the city, the franchise’s history, and the legacies of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett all on his shoulders… decided to meet LeBron at high noon for a 1-on-1, winner-take-all duel. There was no deferring this time. There were no possessions off. There was no conserving himself on defense. This was Paul Pierce answering the best player in the world’s challenge. The winning of that game was almost secondary.
It’s not an accident that the Celtics closed out the next two series, against vastly better teams, in 6 games rather than 7. It happened because Pierce’s battle with LeBron reestablished the Celtics as his team. He was option number 1. After an 82 game season and 20 playoff games, the #1 option had finally been settled. KG and Ray could back off and take turns as option #2. When Paul Pierce dove to secure that loose ball of the tip against the Cavs, he might has well have been diving over the wall that separated him from the rest of the NBA megastars. THAT was his first step towards winning Finals MVP. And it might have been the moment his got his toe into the door of the Hall of Fame.
I truly believe that now, with his numbers, a ring, and a Finals MVP to his credit, Paul Pierce will be giving a speech in Springfield. His number 34 will be raised to the rafters. And you’ll be telling your kids stories some day about Paul Pierce… like some of your fathers told you about John Havlicek. I’ve said it a million times already, and I’ll say it a million more. I’m happiest for Paul Pierce right now. He is a rare talent that might finally be appreciated by more than just us hardcore Celtics fans. But whether that happens or not, Paul, we appreciate the job you’ve done in helping us achieve the ultimate goal… an NBA title.
As I said at the top, there are two more ‘appreciations’ coming… so look for those tomorrow and Monday. That photo up top came from our new wallpaper (thumbnail, left).
We’re working on more… so stay tuned for those too