Paul Pierce Must Up His Game If Boston Celtics Are Going Anywhere

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistDecember 24, 2012

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 19:  Paul Pierce #34 of the Boston Celtics celebrates after making a three-point shot against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the game on December 19, 2012 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Pierce finished the game with 40 points. 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 Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Kevin Garnett may be the most important player on the Boston Celtics. Rajon Rondo may be the flashiest. However, if the Celtics want to contend for a title this season, Paul Pierce needs to start playing better.

Fortunately, Pierce has raised his level of performance significantly over the Celtics' past several games.

The Truth has been otherworldly in Boston's past two contests in particular, scoring 40 points off 13-of-16 shooting (6-of-7 from three-point range) in a win over the Cleveland Cavaliers and then 35 off 13-of-23 shooting in a heartbreaking overtime loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.

He was also showing signs of coming out of his slump in the two games prior, going 7-of-13 against the San Antonio Spurs and then 6-of-10 against the Chicago Bulls.

Up until recently, Pierce had been awful. He wasn't shooting the ball well, he wasn't playing good defense, and he simply looked flat-out careless out there. His lack of production had many wondering if he was finally done. Maybe age and tired legs had finally caught up to him. However, there were some who felt that The Captain was merely coasting much like he did for much of last season,  conserving energy and ready to go off at moment's notice.

The latter happened.

Unfortunately for Pierce, Garnett and Jason Terry went a combined 7-for-37 from the floor in the loss to Milwaukee. Had either of those two been able to hit the ocean from a boat that game, Boston would be heading into Christmas with two straight wins on the shoulders of The Truth.

Not only has Pierce been scoring more efficiently, he has looked more aggressive in all aspects of the game. His defense has improved. He is now ripping down boards (he had 12 against the Bucks). He is demanding the ball in crucial moments and hitting his trademark big shots. It looks like The Truth has returned. See for yourself below.

However, Pierce needs to keep this level of play up. He can't just put forth a couple of good performances and then fade into oblivion for another couple of weeks. We are now more than a quarter of the way through the season, and with the C's still trying to find their groove, Pierce needs to push the gas pedal a little harder.

That isn't to say that he should go all out. One of the last things the Celtics need is for Pierce to go full throttle and then burn himself out before the playoffs roll around. What he needs to do is stay aggressive, play smart, and start taking things a bit more seriously.

When Pierce is playing well, Boston is a championship contender. We know K.G. is going to be there on both ends of the floor, dominating defensively and providing the C's with a reliable presence offensively. We know Rondo is going to be a triple-double threat every night and put up monster numbers across the board. For the most part, those two things have rung true for the first two months of this season. What has been missing, though, is consistent production from The Truth.

Suddenly, though, that production is back.

Just look at the numbers.

At the time of this article, Pierce is shooting 44.4 percent from the floor. His career average? 44.8 percent. He is shooting 39.1 percent from three. His career percentage? 37 percent. He is hitting on 81.5 percent of his free throws? He is an 80.8 shooter from the charity stripe for his career. He is averaging 21 points per game, just a point under his 22 point career average.

Not only that, but the 21 points he is getting per contest is his best since 2006-07. The 5.7 rebounds? Also his best since 2006-07. The 1.7 steals? You have to go all the way back to the 2002-03 season to see a time when Pierce topped that.

The Celtics need Pierce to keep playing this way. They need him to be The Truth. Based on the past few games, it's safe to say that he is still more than capable of living up to that name. Don't believe me? Just look at The Captain's activity level against Milwaukee.

We all knocked Pierce for the first few weeks of the season, and you know what; it was well-deserved. He was mediocre at best. But now, he is turning it on. He is flipping the switch.

Turning it on and flipping the switch. Are there two other phrases that Boston Celtics fans are more familiar with?

All statistics in this article are valid as of December 24th, 2012.