Resume: 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.1 steals, 33.4 minutes, 333 free throws made (9th in league), 44% FG, 38% 3PT, and 79% FT… Team record in games played: 41-36 (0-4 without)… Playoffs: 19.2 points, 5.7 rebounds, 5.3 assists, 42.5 minutes, 37% FG, 90% FT (career best), 2-4 record
If you’ve read my work before you are likely well aware that I’m a LeBron James fanatic (Look, before you close the window in a fit of rage and start screaming expletives at me through your computer screen for not being able to resist the urge to mention LeBron, just give me a little bit of time). I’ve been through the ups and downs, the exhilarating wins and disappointing losses. That means I’ve been through every perceived rivalry that LeBron has had in his now decade long career. Carmelo, Durant, Kobe, the Pistons, the Wizards, Skip Bayless, the city of Cleveland… None of which are nearly as legitimate as LeBron’s rivalry with Paul Pierce.
There is something to be said about Pierce being the marquee and most consistent rival of the best basketball player of the last twenty years or so. Of anyone LeBron has ever stepped on the floor against, Pierce is the only one that has gotten the better of LeBron on more than one occasion, and oddly enough, he’s also the only guy I ever truly feared would actually outgun LeBron. Still, most people would likely skim over Pierce when discussing LeBron’s biggest rivals. Pierce went toe to toe with LeBron in 2008, outshined him in 2010 and nearly got the best of him again in 2012. In fact, when Pierce hit an incredibly gutsy three right in LeBron’s face in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals, I just about wrote off the rivalry in Pierce’s favor, a very painful and sad development for me.
Do you want to know what’s actually more painful and sad than watching Pierce get the better of LeBron, and this is how you know I am a bigger NBA fan than LeBron fan—the idea of Paul Pierce finishing out his memorable career in a Brooklyn Nets jersey. To me this feels a little like Joe Montana becoming a Kansas City Chief, how we expected Peyton Manning to come out and play as a Denver Bronco, or even on a slightly smaller scale, Jordan wearing the #23 jersey for the Washington Wizards. It doesn’t feel right that Pierce isn’t a Celtic, and I’m not even a Celtics fan. For a solid four year run I despised Paul Pierce more than any other athlete who wasn’t tied to steroids (I’m looking at you Lance Armstrong and every professional baseball player!). And now that hatred seems awfully elementary. As a LeBron fan I felt threatened by the second best Eastern Conference small forward of the 2000’s; a late game assassin, big game player, all-time great Boston Celtic, and NBA Finals MVP… and coincidentally, someone that can deliver the Brooklyn Nets to basketball relevance.
Equipped with a Russian billionaire owner who spends money like he’s Jay Gatsby, four top 50 players at the moment (and one honorable mention), a connection to Jay Z, and a much more intriguing destination for free agents than East Rutherford was, there isn’t a compelling case to make for why the Nets shouldn’t now be a consistent title contender. However, up until their trade with the Celtics there was an explanation so apparent that you practically heard it being screamed at you through the television screen. If you missed it, just re-watch the Nets series against the Bulls and you’ll hear the screaming. I know I covered this idea in my Kevin Garnett section, but it really can’t be mentioned enough. It had nothing to do with talent… the Nets just weren’t equipped to play in a big game like that. They lacked toughness and heart that Garnett will bring, and they lacked the, ummm, well how shall I put this delicately—just watch this clip to understand what I’m getting at—that Paul Pierce has shown time after time he has. Even if he’s running on fumes in year sixteen, Pierce is still a killer and the Nets are now dangerous. That’s the truth.