They are too old, too slow, well past the age when they presumably should have been put out to pasture. Yet Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, who are still members of the Celtics despite trade rumors that circulated for months, also happen to still be Boston’s best and most consistent players. They are going nowhere in the short term, and they should stay there for the foreseeable future as well.
When the Celtics limped into All-Star weekend — literally, with two players suffering season-ending knee injuries in the weeks prior, not figuratively, as the team had won eight of nine games heading into the break — some experts and fans clamored for a big change at the trade deadline. With Rajon Rondo done until at least next season and two more key players following him to the sideline indefinitely, a few cosmetic changes were not going to be enough. The Celtics, supposedly, needed to do something drastic.
Whenever the Celtics struggle nowadays, the lazy fallback argument is that they are too old. In any other case, that may be true. Teams that rely on two stars well into their 30s typically battle fatigue and inconsistency more than teams stocked with stars in their primes. The rationale behind the Celtics “blowing it up” assumed that the team needed to rid itself of its aging veterans before it could move on.
There is only one massive problem with that: Pierce and Garnett have been nowhere near the Celtics’ biggest problem this season.
As though he needed to provide any further evidence, Pierce came through with another do-everything performance on Monday. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter and overtime to finish with 26 points, eight assists and seven rebounds in the Celtics’ 110-107 victory over the Jazz. Meanwhile, Garnett had 13 points and 10 rebounds while making Jazz big man Al Jefferson disappear down the stretch in a close game. The Jazz could only shake their heads in admiration.
“They are veteran guys, and they find ways to win,” Jazz swingman Gordon Hayward told reporters after the game. “[Pierce] has been doing that for a while. I think I can take this as a learning experience, see how he controlled the game when it got down to the wire and try to emulate some of that.”
Monday’s performance was nothing new. Pierce, 35, and Garnett, 36, have been by far the Celtics’ most consistent players all season. That includes the 26-year-old Rondo, who was slated to be a starter on the Eastern Conference All-Star team before he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee, and other young, athletic dynamos like Jeff Green, Avery Bradley and Courtney Lee.
Among all still-healthy Boston players, Pierce and Garnett lead all Celtics in player-efficiency rating by a healthy margin. Their net offensive and defensive ratings, which measure the amount of points the Celtics score and allow per 100 possessions with them on the court, are also the two highest on the team. They are doing all this not in occasional spurts, which can inflate the efficiency stats of lesser-used players, but in extended playing time. The Celtics’ most-used two-man lineup combination is — you guessed it — Pierce and Garnett. Doc Rivers is still leaning on his old guys, and they are still producing.
Amid all the calls to mortgage the present for an uncertain future, Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge recognized this and made the right decision to maintain the status quo. Josh Smith and DeAndre Jordan can run and jump and do some impressive things, but what evidence was there that they would be an improvement over the “old guys,” when the old guys remain superior to those players in their primes?
(Yes, this is probably as good as it is going to get for Jordan, who is still just 24 years old. The shot-blocking and rebounding specialist is averaging the fewest rebounds and blocks per 36 minutes of his career, and the Clippers did not seem all that broken up about the prospect of trading him. Several reports indicated Eric Bledsoe was the player they really did not want to part with.)
If what Pierce and Garnett are doing constitutes “too old,” then Michael Jordan may want to think seriously about making that comeback he threatened to make at 50. Apparently, “too old” means outplaying younger and more spry players on a regular basis, which is not too shabby.