06/14/2012 - 15:53 A Dramatic Season in Review by
Wayne Lam and the Paul Pierce Team
It's funny to think about now, but Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics had a losing record at the All-Star break.
All around the country, people were lining up to shovel dirt on the team, saying they were too old, too banged up, and too slow to make any impact on the Eastern Conference. Three months later, after reaching the Eastern Conference Finals, going blow for blow with the Miami Heat, and coming within minutes of their third NBA Finals appearance in five years, the Celtics were looked at something very different. That transformation was made possible by Paul Pierce.
This season, Paul did several things to pad what's sure to be a Hall of Fame resume. First off, he cemented his place among the Celtics’ all time greats when he passed Larry Bird on the Celtics’ all time scoring list, during a game against the Charlotte Bobcats on February 7th, 2012. Paul now trails only the great John Havlicek on the franchise's scoring list, and this season was filled with games that showed he'll be charging, not limping, toward Havlicek's place. Pierce was also selected to play in the All-Star game for the fourth year in a row, giving him 10 All-Star appearances in his career. That total is tied for seventh-most all time, and puts Paul in an elite club that includes Hall of Famers John Stockton and Clyde Drexler.
Even at the age of 34 and playing in his 14th NBA season, Pierce proved he still has the motor and skills to be an elite scorer. The C's captain appeared in 61 of 66 games in this lockout-shortened season, and he proved to be one of the Celtics' most dependable and durable players. He also scored at least 30 points seven times this season, with the Celtics going 6-1 in those games. Even after all the incredible offensive performances Paul's put in over the years, his play impressed Head Coach Doc Rivers, who had this to say about Pierce’s scoring ability: “I don't even know how Paul scores sometimes. He doesn't look like he's that quick but he is. He's got a gift. He's a professional scorer.”
Because of the breakneck pace of the schedule and all the injuries to teammates, Pierce's season was filled with dramatic, memorable performances.
The first came early in the season, on January 22 at Washington. Injuries had already begun to plague the Celtics, with ankle and wrist sprains afflicting Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo. But his team needed a win, so Paul summoned a near triple-double, totaling 34 points, 10 rebounds, and 8 assists to carry the team to victory against the Wizards.
On March 6, 2012 against the Houston Rockets, Paul and his teammates found themselves in a fight, with their five-game winning streak imperiled and a first half lead lost. Paul was having an off night shooting the ball, but he did major damage at the free throw, line knocking down 11 of 12, and when it mattered most, he came up big: seven of his 30 points came in overtime.
Then on April 17, 2012 against the Knicks, Pierce did something almost nobody in the NBA can do: he outscored Carmelo Anthony. He made 17 of 18 free throws, a season high, on his way to scoring 43 points in front of a rowdy New York crowd at Madison Square Garden.
Of course, the defining moment for Paul this season came in the playoffs in his first-round matchup against the Atlanta Hawks. Rajon Rondo’s suspension after an altercation with a referee in Game One set the stage, and Pierce turned in a performance fit for a Hall of Famer. His shooting was in a funk in the first half, but in the second half he nearly erased an 11-point deficit all by himself. He scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, almost matching the 14 points scored by the entire Hawks team, and by the end of the night, he'd scored 36 points and grabbed 14 rebounds. Paul didn't just dominate for his undermanned team. On that night, he outperformed everyone, leaving Phillips Arena with the image of him “Tebowing” at midcourt after making two game-icing free throws.
The last shining moment in Paul's season was a dagger of a three over LeBron James in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals. After struggling offensively for the majority of the night, Pierce delivered in crunch time and had not only Celtics Nation, but the entire basketball world believing Boston would make a trip to the NBA Finals. After that shot, the Celtics looked like the team to beat. Year after year, the Celtics are perceived as worn out and old, but after Paul's shot slipped through the nylon, they were suddenly favored again, and over the young, athletic Miami Heat. The fact that Paul and his teammates got from Too Old (at the season's start) to Too Good (after Game Five) in the public's eyes makes it a season to remember.
In a few months, Paul Pierce will begin a new season, and embark on another quest to hang a new banner in the TD Garden rafters. He will be putting in the work this offseason. And, given how close he and his teammates got this time, imagine what they can do with a regular training camp and preseason.