To Which Other Celtics Great Does Paul Pierce Compare Most Favorably?

Chris Lawrence@@C_law90Featured ColumnistSeptember 21, 2012

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 05:  (L-R) Paul Pierce #34 and Kevin Garnett #5 of the Boston Celtics react late in the fourth quarter against the Miami Heat in Game Five of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on June 5, 2012 at American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Over 14 NBA seasons, Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce has solidified his place in the franchise's storied history.

And with a franchise that has had a revolving door of NBA greats, fans often debate where Pierce stands in that group.

But perhaps we're asking the wrong question. Rather, we should be asking to which of these players does Pierce compare most favorably?

While Pierce does not have the boundless energy of John Havlicek, he does have the mentality and prowess that made Larry Bird an NBA legend.

Bird was not a great athlete by any stretch, but he was crafty.

Pierce is obviously the better athlete of the two, but like Bird, has made liberal use of pump fakes and misdirections.

Both players had the ability to go one-on-one with defenders and create their own shots.

Pierce typically does one of two things when he gets the ball:

1. He catches the ball with his back to the defender.

This allows him to either a) turn around and square up for a fall away mid-range jumper after throwing a series of ball fakes or b) post up his defender and use dribble penetration to create enough space to either score or pass to an open teammate after drawing the double team.

2. Pierce receives the ball at the top of the key.

One of his go-to moves in this situation is the step-back, in which he creates just enough space with the dribble to get a shot off.

Bird didn't have Pierce's first step or his quickness, so he relied heavily on pivots and aggressive ball fakes to freeze defenders.

Bird also did a lot maneuvering around defenders, making use of up-and-unders to get unconventional—and at times impossible—baskets.

Clearly, these methods worked more often than not as Bird scored at will.

Neither Pierce or Bird had a problem putting up points in a hurry. And while they may have created shots in different ways, the end result was the same.

In terms of basketball IQ, Pierce has demonstrated over his career that he has the ability to see plays develop before they happen, exercising a razor-sharp awareness on both ends of the court.

Pierce has always been a playmaker. Whether he is picking off a pass and launching an outlet to a teammate or playing the pick-and-roll to a tee with Kevin Garnett, he exercises sound judgement in his actions on the floor.

As recently as last season, NBA fans witnessed Pierce's ability to be a facilitator when he had to take the reigns of the Celtics' offense while Rajon Rondo was injured. During that stretch, Pierce averaged 21.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game and led the Celtics to win nine out of 10 games.


Bird himself was known as a playmaker. He not only would pick off passes on defense but anticipate angles and position himself for the steal. Bird's defensive awareness and hustle made him a three-time member of the NBA All-Defensive Second Team.

Though Bird was not considered an elite defender in the post or on the ball, his knack for disrupting plays by getting into passing lanes made him a force on that end of the floor.

He also had the ability to spot open teammates immediately, often making quick touch passes before defenders knew what hit them.

Pierce's awareness hasn't garnered him the same defensive credentials as Bird, but he is a competent team defender. Like Bird, Pierce sees opportunities to make defensive plays and secure quality possessions for his team.

Pierce is not as explosive as LeBron James, just as Bird was not as explosive as Michael Jordan. But Pierce has always been able to find ways to score by blending what athleticism he had with Bird-esque finesse.

When the Celtics run an isolation for Pierce, he doesn't just soar by his defender.

 It's the little things that make Pierce—and made Bird—effective and efficient scorers.

The slightest movement—a ball fake to the right, a head fake to the left, a step-back dribble, a pivot away from the defender—can be used to manipulate opposing defenses. No one understood this better than Bird, and the same goes for Pierce today.

And though they are not mirror images of each another, they possess similar characteristics and attitudes. Both are crafty, aggressive and, above all, clutch performers.

With five seconds left and down by one point with the ball, Larry Bird was K.C. Jones' man.

Years later, Doc Rivers calls Pierce's number in the same situation.

Perhaps what makes Pierce most similar to Bird is his attitude. Pierce doesn't shy away from a challenge. Even through his failures, his confidence is not shaken.

An example would be a 2001 game against the New Jersey Nets, in which a then 24-year-old Pierce had an abysmal two points at halftime.

But Pierce came out firing in the second half, connecting on 12 of 18 shots and scoring 46 points.

Pierce didn't give up, demonstrating great confidence and perseverance.

That can-do, never-die attitude can go a long way.

And that's exactly the type of attitude Bird had. He believed he was the best player on the floor—and he let his play do the talking.

It's not a question of who is or was the better player. Pierce and Bird played in different eras, and the game has evolved during the time between those eras—for better or worse.



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