Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Paul Pierce - Now and Then

Jackie MacMullan provides the breakdown of No.34.

Paul Pierce remains one of the most dangerous scorers - if not the most dangerous - on his team, even with Garnett and Allen aboard. His stats for the season (20 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.7 assists) doesn't give the whole picture. In fact his scoring is 3 points below his career average, but his field goal percentage (0.46) and assists are higher.

First and foremost, his commitment in defence has been there from the start. On the very first possession of this season against the Washington Wizards, Pierce, overplaying Caron Butler, deflected a pass, then clapped with excitment when the ball grazed off Butler's fingers and out of bounds. The new era of Celtics basketball was officially in motion. This season has been all about defense, because that's all he ever wanted - winning championships.

Pierce has been consistent, unselfish, reliable, and positively buoyant this season. He has more trust in his teammates. He sat for nearly 10 1/2 minutes in a tight game against Detroit March 5 without a complaint, then came in and nailed arguably the biggest shot of the night - a 3-pointer that pushed Boston ahead, 81-77. The Celtics won, 90-78.

Another change to his game is his free-throw shooting. Pierce is a career 79.5% FT shooter. This year: 84.6%. Red's Army dotcom knows the reason why.

The past few years, Paul had gotten into a habit of shooting his free throw by putting his weight over his heels, and fading away from the line. This year he’s got that left foot way back and bending more. By putting his weight forward, he changes his center of gravity and maintains his balance throughout the shot… preventing himself from fading away (see pic).

It has been a tumultuous ride for the Celtics' captain, particularly when you consider the unforgettable playoff debacle against the Pacers was only three seasons ago. That was the seven-game series when the favored Celtics imploded, and Pierce was ejected in Game 6 after picking up two technicals, then ripping off his jersey and waving it at the fans. Celtics eventually lose that series. Pierce was vilified for his sophomoric actions. His leadership and his value to the franchise were questioned. With the wrath of the city and the fan over him, Pierce looked for an opportunity to change thing.

"Paul's not perfect," said Celtics boss Danny Ainge, "but the one thing I've always appreciated about him was he loves to play the game of basketball. He comes to play every night. Now, some nights he might have gotten frustrated, and he didn't always do the right thing, but I think people forget he had a great deal of responsibility and expectations placed on him, and sometimes that wasn't fair."

Drafted in 1998 (10th picks) and after playing two seasons, Pierce was stabbed 11 times in a Boston dance club. He has to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage. He is able to recover from the stabbing and play the full season that year. The stabbing wounds are still visible in his face and back.

This year, he has rededicated himself to conditioning, something he only did in spurts when he was younger. The influence of Ray Allen, a fitness nut, is apparent. Ainge reports, on the offdays after back-to-back games, he can see Pierce from his office window doing sprints on the treadmill. Pierce said that he was so impressed with Allen's conditioning program he was going to implement it for himself this summer.

For better or worse, Pierce brings his honesty and unadulterated persona to lead his team. His path to championship is closer than ever.