Pierce gets recognition he deserves
Paul Pierce was awarded the MVP trophy after the Boston Celtics’ title-clinching victory on Tuesday, and I have to say that it’s about time the man got some love. Throughout his career Pierce’s positive qualities have either been denied, overlooked or underappreciated. Until now.
After being a candidate to be the No. 1 choice of the Los Angeles Clippers in the 1998 NBA draft, Pierce slipped to the Boston Celtics at No. 10. Although it was a talent-rich draft, he’s had a significantly better career than first-overall pick Michael Olowokandi, his former Kansas teammate Raef LaFrentz and Robert “Tractor” Traylor, all of whom were drafted before he was.
Before the 2000-01 season, he was stabbed 11 times in the neck, chest and back. He was lucky to be alive after needing lung surgery. But the near-fatal experience didn’t stop him from playing all 82 regular season games — something he’s done twice since. He risked further injury when he came back after hearing his knee pop in Game 1 of this year’s finals, and his Willis Reed impersonation led the Celtics to a championship.
During the early part of the decade, Kobe Bryant, Vince Carter, Allen Iverson and Tracy McGrady were regularly mentioned as the league’s best perimeter scorers, with Pierce being the fifth wheel.
Bryant is still considered part of the current group, along with Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, but McGrady, Carter, Iverson and Pierce have all fallen into the second-tier group in public perception.
While Carter, McGrady and Iverson are slowly becoming shadows of the players they once were, Pierce is still thriving. This year was the first season he averaged less than 20 points a game since his second, but that was due to the additions of Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. His postseason performance confirmed that he’s still one of the game’s elite perimeter scorers.
Pierce has been chastised for years by Celtics fans and members of the media for the team’s previous struggles — but he was hardly to blame. He got them to the 2002 Eastern Conference finals, but two years later, management wrongly fired coach Jim O’Brien and traded away the most talented teammate, Antoine Walker, that Pierce had ever had (not including a young Joe Johnson, who was also traded).
The team struggled the next couple of years after filling the roster with barely legal, underachieving youngsters. The downward spiral culminated in a 24-58 2006-07 record. Pierce was in a situation much worse than Baron Davis, Iverson or Bryant had ever been in, but unlike them he never demanded a trade.
A lot of star players struggle when they can’t be “the man,” but Pierce had no problem when the Celtics trio (Garnett, in particular), got most of the media attention. He totally bought into the team’s new defensive emphasis brought on by Garnett and defensive-minded assistant coach Tom Thibodeau. Pierce’s attitude allowed the Celtics to win the title, while getting him the MVP trophy and some much needed love.