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Essay: Paul Pierce’s Game Has Never Been More Appropriate

In the week before Rajon Rondo re-entered Boston’s lineup, Paul Pierce averaged 22.5 points (on 48% shooting), 6.5 rebounds, 7.2 assists, and 1.5 steals in just under 37 minutes per game. These numbers weren’t only impressive in their completeness, they were a glorious reflection to the type of fantastic play that saved his team’s season and made him an All-Star.

As Rondo let his delicate wrist heal, Doc Rivers adjusted the Celtics’ offense as any right-minded coach would. He kept it simple, designed a few plays to use in crunch time, and instead of over thinking the situation and panicking (Hello, Mike D’Antoni!) he placed the ball in the hands of his 34-year-old captain. In turn, Pierce has responded with MVP performances, and the type of methodic surgery very few—if any—small forwards are able to create on a consistent basis.

As a full-time resident of Boston for 20 of my 24 years on this Earth, I’ve been fortunate enough to see almost every minute of Paul Pierce’s career. After all this time, whenever I watch him play on live television, it’s almost as if the moves were placed on a loop, like I’m experiencing a brief Back to the Future moment in time; the step back from the elbow, the fidgety ball fake from the left wing to take his man baseline, the mid-range fadeaways, the spot up three-pointers, the inexhaustible supply of pump fakes that STILL get his man jumping in the air. As I watch him lead the Celtics in almost every conceivable area right now, playing his absolute heart out in the last realistic shot at a championship—barring some massive, unforeseen trade and/or offseason free agent signing—of his Hall of Fame career, I can’t help but wonder aloud if this is Paul Pierce’s time.

Now, I’m not saying Pierce is better than Kevin Durant, LeBron James, or even the 2008 version of himself. He’s always been known for his ability to dictate a game’s flow, relying on deception even when it seemed like he had the talent to go a flashier route. (It’s been called Old Man Game, and nobody in league history has done it better.) Well, right now Paul Pierce is relatively old. So, without a drop of alcohol in my system, I guess what I’m trying to say is that the contemporary Paul Pierce might be Paul Pierce in his prime. Which is to say, Pierce’s prime is right now.

In a way, doesn’t it feel like the present is what we’ve been waiting for? As great a basketball player as Paul Pierce has been over the last 13 or so years, isn’t it proper that he’s affecting basketball games more so than ever before at the age of 34? Pierce is scoring. Pierce is rebounding. Pierce is creating for others. Pierce is playing defense. Pierce is baking a roast. Pierce is patenting a user-friendly jetpack. Pierce is presenting, then winning, at the Oscars. Pierce is the most omnipresent being in basketball.

A few weeks ago I had up close and personal seats at the Garden to witness a Celtics/Pacers grudge match. Pierce started slow (figuratively), clanging a few layups off the rim’s nose and looking a little winded as he fought through the multiple roadblocks Danny Granger’s teammates would set up each and every time he came down the court. But once he worked up a lather, everyone else seemed to slow down to the pace he wanted to play (with Rondo out of the lineup, the Celtics were the fourth slowest team in the league. They also posted a 6-2 record). He did everything as he wanted, on his terms, looking as comfortable as he’s been since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen came aboard.

It’s as if this is where his game was meant to reside. Savvy yet spry in a steady, careful body. He can still shoot from anywhere on the court, which allows him to still get to the rim whenever he wants. And he can still command a double team in his sleep, then find the open man with the simple ease you or I might use to pour a bowl of cereal.

He’s like Don Cheadle in Showtime’s House of Lies, pausing a scene and calmly explaining to the audience the logistics of his current situation. “See, here is where the Magic are going to double me on the pick and roll. Ha! Cracks me up every time. So what am I going to do? How about turning Brandon Bass’ eyes into Christmas lights? Yea, that should work.” When the play resumes, Pierce whips a no-look behind the back bounce pass to his power forward, who gobbles it up and drains a wide open 16-footer. Paul looks straight into the camera, tilts his head to the side, and allows a half, all-knowing smile.

Things aren’t easy for Paul Pierce right now, but he sure makes them look that way.

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