After a busy summer and productive offseason for Paul Pierce and the Los Angeles Clippers, the team will embark on their regular season campaign on Wednesday with championship aspirations.
The Clippers are poised to be one of the top contending teams in the Western Conference after falling short last year to the Houston Rockets in the conference semifinals. After finishing last year with a 56-26 record, the Clips will go into the season with lofty expectations, but after a productive offseason, they may be poised for a deeper postseason run with Pierce and Co.
The key additions for the Clippers this offseason came in the form of The Truth, Lance Stephenson, Josh Smith, Pablo Prigioni, Wesley Johnson, Cole Aldrich, and a re-signed DeAndre Jordan after he verbally agreed to join the Dallas Mavericks. This added depth, combined with a Clipper core that features Chris Paul, Blake Griffin and returning role players Austin Rivers, Jamal Crawford and J.J. Redick, gives the Clips a good chance to have one of the most lethal offenses in the NBA. With 23 combined All-Star appearances throughout the Clippers roster, this may be one of the most talented teams The Truth has been a part of.
Paul was brought in for his sharpshooting and also to provide the Clips with depth on the wing. His competitive mentality coupled with the veteran voice he provides on the court and in the locker room will be a welcomed asset for the red, white and blue as well. Maybe the most important reason No. 34 was brought in by the Clippers is for his clutch gene, which was on full display last year as The Truth was the key cog of the Washington Wizards postseason run. In the moments where the Clippers have struggled to close out games in recent past, Pierce now gives the team a different option to turn to.
After the Clippers’ miraculous preseason finale comeback last week against the Portland Trailblazers where they erased a 35-point second-quarter deficit to win 115-109, Rivers talked about how underrated of a player Paul has been his whole career. Pierce finished the game with 19 points on 7-of-11 shooting, with 14 of those points and four three pointers all coming in the fourth quarter.
“I think[Pierce] has been underrated his whole career, in a strange way,” said Rivers. “I even told that to him when I first took the job in Boston, that I underrated him. I knew prior that he was good. I just didn’t know he was that good. I never knew he was athletic.”
Even though the Pierce is 38 years old, Doc knows he still has plenty left in the tank and that he is hungry to bring a championship back to his hometown. Rivers also said that Clipper fans will be in for a treat when they get to see Paul’s skillset up close over the course of the season after getting a small taste of No. 34’s greatness this preseason.
“When he plays, he just does nothing fast, so you don’t think that he’s quick. You don’t think he can jump, yet he can. He just chooses not to. He doesn’t have to. So when you coach him up close, you see how good he is. I think our fans here will appreciate him more, especially at this age.”
Pierce will continue to make crunch-time plays for the Clippers all season, whether it’s off the bench or in a starting role. The fourth quarter clinic he put on against Portland verified that The Truth still has plenty of gas left in the tank and that he will likely be a contributor for the Clips when they need him most in the 2015-16 campaign.
Although Pierce’s role has yet to be fully established when it comes to starting or coming off the bench after Doc tinkered with his lineup each game this preseason, we should expect to see Pierce knock down buckets with ease as he has during whole career whenever his number is called.
“He was getting shots on 24-year-olds today and he just knows how to score,” Rivers said. “He’s a professional scorer.”
Pierce has been accustomed to being a starter his entire career. Even last season at 37 years old The Truth started all 73 games in which he played for the Wizards. Out of a total of 1,250 career games No. 34 has played, he’s started 1,240 of them. The Clippers brought in Wes Johnson this offseason as another possible candidate to start at small forward, and Stephenson could be up for that starting role as well. The most likely scenario will be a rotating starting five. But no matter how it shakes out, Doc has said multiple times over the preseason that he plans to keep Pierce’s minutes in check so he can stay fresh for the entirety of the season.
Unlike other teams Pierce has been a part of in the past, the Clippers are different in the fact that they already have an existing veteran core. The last few years they have been contenders, so Paul won’t be expected to be ‘the guy’ for this already loaded team. No.34 will be a complementary piece for a Clips squad that looks to be more well-rounded than they have been in the past, and be more suited to get over the playoff hump.
Paul’s regular-season debut with the Clips will be on Oct. 28 against the Sacramento Kings at 7 p.m. PT. The game will be aired on Prime Ticket.