Paul Pierce, Carmelo Anthony’s Contrasts in Style, Substance on Display in NBA’s Best Rivalry

Carmelo Anthony, Paul PierceOne of the few items missing from Paul Pierce‘s repertoire is the lack of a trademark celebratory gesture. In more than 14 years in the NBA, Pierce has offered little along the lines of Jason Terry‘s “Jet” flight or Kevin Garnett‘s vicious chest-pound. He has nothing as subtle as LeBron James‘ superhero pose or as unconcealed as Russell Westbrook‘s primal yell. Whenever he has hit a big shot, Pierce has just sort of gone with whatever seemed fitting at the time, from Tebowing to dodging a flying Nate Robinson.

After drilling a step-back jump shot in the face of Tyson Chandler on Monday, though, Pierce needed to do something to capture the moment. In some circles, sending home the dagger mere steps from where the endlessly annoying Spike Lee was sitting would be enough of a statement. Not this time.

So, as Pierce backpedaled down the court, he put two fingers to his lips, puckered his lips and blew a kiss. He may have been wishing the crowd at Madison Square Garden a safe trip home or just kissing the Knicks goodbye for this particular night.

Then again, maybe he was expressing his affection for Carmelo Anthony, his perfect contrast in style and substance.

Pierce and Anthony probably are not about to invite each other over for tea and strumpets, but as Monday’s edition of the NBA’s best rivalry reminded us, these two professional scorers might just be the perfect foils. Pierce, the aging champion, and Anthony, the idealized scorer who so far has fallen short of team glory, squared off in a showdown Pierce’s Celtics won 102-96 in a playoff-like atmosphere.

As they often do, the two stars personified the difference between their two teams. For most of the first half, even as Anthony struggled with his shot, the Knicks made scoring look easy. They went 10-for-17 from downtown, making as many 3-pointers as Boston attempted, and while the Celtics actually shot a better percentage, it was clear which team needed to work harder for its baskets. With Rajon Rondo serving a one-game suspension, the Celtics’ offense took on Pierce’s personality: herky-jerky while somehow still effective.

To get a sense of what we mean, take a look at the highlight videos from each scorer’s career below.

Pierce is effective, but agonizing to watch. Celtics coach Doc Rivers says Pierce’s shot release is so inconsistent, he does not even try to read the ball out of Pierce’s hands. In the videos above, did you notice how easy Anthony makes it all look, while Pierce looks like he snaps a tendon or suffers some other type of horrible injury on every play?

His 6-for-26 performance against the Celtics aside, Anthony may be the one player in the league who can give Kevin Durant a run for his money as the NBA’s most perfect scorer. There is no weakness in his offensive game. He possesses a perimeter, midrange and post game at or above the level of every other player today. He is a more accurate long-range shooter than sharpshooters like Mike Miller and Ryan Anderson. He shoots a better percentage from 10 to 15 feet than all but 14 players shoot overall. He is more effective on the block than Durant, despite being two inches shorter.

There is virtually no way Anthony cannot score the ball. And that might be his ultimate failing.

Like the Knicks’ first-half shooting on Monday, at times offense seems to come too easy for Anthony. His short jumper in the third quarter looked so smooth and effortless, it was tempting to forget that it was his only make in five tries in the quarter. Some might say that such a detached style is difficult to maintain when the going gets tough. We won’t go that far, since Anthony has had some huge fourth quarters for New York this season. We will, however, point out that one player scored four buckets in the last 8:16 on Monday, and one scored zero. Guess who each player was.

The Celtics and Knicks meet three more times this season, with two of those games at the TD Garden. Anthony and the Knicks have been the team on the rise this season, while Pierce and the Celtics spent most of the season thus far in steady decline. On Monday, though, the Celtics announced that the heat of the rivalry still burns — and that Pierce, at 35, can still hold his own in a scoring battle with anyone.

Have a question for Ben Watanabe? Send it to him via Twitter at @BenjeeBallgame or send it here.

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