BOSTON — For all Paul Pierce‘s many accomplishments, from his Most Valuable Player award in the 2008 NBA Finals to his 10 All-Star game appearances, there remains a sense that he is underappreciated outside of Boston. Doc Rivers had admitted he underestimated Pierce’s abilities and questioned Pierce’s conditioning until he finally was able to see the professional forward go about his work from day to day.
Once the paint was dry on Pierce’s latest masterpiece, a much-needed 40-point explosion in a 103-91 win over the Cavaliers to snap a three-game losing streak, Jason Terry allayed those fears. Do not fret about Pierce not getting his due around the league, Terry said. Pierce is appreciated — in more ways than one.
“He’s a Hall of Famer,” Terry said. “He’s a champion, one of the greatest Celtics to ever put on the uniform, and that’s saying a lot, obviously. One day his jersey will be up there in the rafters.
“Not a lot of guys in this league stay with one franchise. You could name them, count them on your hand right now, and there’s not many superstars that have been in the league longer than 12, 13 years. He’s one of them. His hard work, his dedication, his willingness to stick through the tough times and not just jump off and say, ‘I’m out of here. I’m going to join forces with Kobe [Bryant] or Dwyane Wade‘ — that’s a shot right there — ‘I’m going to tough it out.’ I think that’s what guys look at and they respect him.”
Terry’s not-so-subtle potshot at LeBron James and Chris Bosh aside, Pierce, 35, made a statement with his performance Wednesday. In becoming the oldest Celtics player to score 40 points in a regulation game — Larry Bird scored 40 in a double-overtime game when he was also 35, plus a few days — Pierce provided greater proof that he is a different type of modern NBA star.
Working on his 15th year as a pro, Pierce is a throwback to when players had funky shooting forms because they played outside, on the asphalt and in the wind, not always in a climate-controlled, hardwood-floored gym. His game will never be described as smooth, although that is how Terry described the easy way Pierce was able to score within the flow of the offense, getting his 40 points on only 16 shots.
It was a vintage Pierce performance in that it was both beautiful and hideous at the same time. And it all came with that shooting motion that somehow made it more than 35 years without some tinkering coach trying to “fix” his mechanics.
“If you watch little kids, if you just watch them shooting at the park, the first they do is shoot long-range shots,” said Pierce, who shot 7-for-7 from the field in the third quarter. “You see kids that can’t even get the ball to the rim. They start way at the 3-point line and try to launch it. So I guess that’s really how it all started, just trying to shoot the ball at the rim as far as you can. Some players get the touch and others don’t.”
Pierce gave off no clues before the game as to what was to come, either. Kevin Garnett thought Pierce looked “down in the dumps” after the team arrived home from Chicago around 2 a.m. Wednesday, and later cracked that Pierce should be down in the dumps more often. Rivers knew better than to try to interpret his team captain’s body language.
“Paul’s the toughest guy to read because he never has the same shot,” Rivers said. “He doesn’t even have the same release point. No kid should watch that. It’s amazing how he does it. Watch his free throws. He takes them from different angles. You never know when he’s got it going, because he’s just tough to read. With Ray [Allen], you could tell right when it left his hands if it was good or if it was flat. Paul, there’s no read on it. It’s just nice when it goes in.”
The Celtics needed every bit of Pierce’s offense on Wednesday. The opponent may have been the lowly Cavaliers, but after road losses to Houston, San Antonio and Chicago dropped their record to an even .500, the Celtics could not afford to take any win for granted. Uncharacteristically, Rivers may have been the one guilty of that when he removed Pierce with four minutes left in the third quarter.
Over the next six-plus minutes, the Cavs whittled a 20-point Boston lead down to three points. It was not until Pierce picked off a pass by rookie Dion Waiters and drew a foul on the ensuing fast break (with Pierce hitting both free throws) that the Celtics could finally exhale. He tacked on another four points to his total after that to cement the Celtics’ double-digit victory.
Pierce’s performance was not showy or highlight-laden, but every single one of his 40 points was needed for the Celtics to come out with a win. It was the type of game the Celtics have gotten used to seeing from him over the last 15 years, and it was a game that should draw appreciation throughout the league, even outside of Boston.