Paul Pierce can’t get caught up in battling LeBron anymore | Red's Army - The Voice of Boston Celtics Fans
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Paul Pierce can’t get caught up in battling LeBron anymore


May 18, 2008.

Five years ago.  Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals.  LeBron James was 23 years-old, a year removed from an embarrassing Finals sweep at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs, and, at the time, believed to be on the cusp of leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a championship.  Surely, people thought, the next logical step after losing in the Finals would be to win in the Finals.  He just had to take care of one little matter:  dispatching the old Celtics so he could fulfill his destiny.  

The Celtics had just finished a 67 win season with their new "Big 3," but their playoffs hadn't been going so well. They were struggling too much on the road.  They had to go 7 to finish off the Hawks and they were sitting there, at home, in another game 7, against last year's Finalists.  

It was an epic matchup.  And fans were treated to one of the NBA's all-time duels. 

LeBron had 45 points, 6 assists, and 5 rebounds.  Paul Pierce 41, 5, and 4.  The Celtics held on for a 97-92 win.  And The Truth went on to win his first ring, along with the Finals MVP. 

But that's ancient history, especially in sports years.  Pierce is pushing 35 now.  LeBron is 27.  He's in the prime of his life.  Paul Pierce has hinted at retirement.  His dueling days, I'm afraid to say, may well be done… at least when it comes to dueling someone like LeBron James. 

Yet there he was Wednesday, in the 3rd quarter, taking his paces like it was high noon. He shot the ball eight times and went to the line twice more.  He dominated the ball like the old Truth, ready to take over where Rajon Rondo left off in the first half.  

The problem is, it didn't work.

"We really got away from what we were doing, honestly," said Doc Rivers yesterday.  "I thought the first half, our offensive game plan was absolutely wonderful.  In the 3rd quarter, we went back to the first game way of playing.  The ball stuck, we never got the ball to the other side of the floor, we concentrated on the first option too much."

The first option was Paul Pierce.  And he's earned the right to be a first option.  He should be the first option.  But he shouldn't be the only option.  

Pierce as your primary scorer will win you a lot of games.  This isn't some kind of Pierce obituary.  But the fact is that some combination of age, injury and schedule (I'm not sure how much of each it really is) has conspired to eliminate the Pierce/LeBron duel as a potential story line.  For Pierce to "out-gun" James, he's going to have to do it withing the regular flow of the offense.

"You're not going to beat Miami on the strong side," Doc said.  "You're not going to beat Miami with isos.  you have to have ball movement.  And the ball has to touch different hands and then the ball has to change side of the floor."

LeBron has gotten too good.  He's got different teammates now.  He's got a different mentality now.  And Paul Pierce needs to have a different one now too. 

The third quarter in Game 2 killed the Celtics.  Isolations plays not only kill your offense, they kill your defense.  Guys get flat-footed when they watch another guy work in isolation, making it hard to go from just standing there to full speed when the ball is turned over.  It's also an energy killer because standing around on offense tends to lead to standing around on defense. 

The days of dueling with LeBron are done.  At least they need to be.  Because if they're not, the Celtics season certainly will be very soon.

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  • danquarterly

    Great read. I am a huge Cleveland sports fan (and thus an avid Heat hater – again, AVID!). I’ll never forget that series. For one reason, I’ll never forget because I saw how good Lebron was at 23 and figured win, lose, or draw in that series, he would eventually bring a title to Cleveland. Silly me.
    Second reason I’ll never forget is because that series, perhaps even that game, is when I recognized how great Paul Pierce was.
    What’s a shame is that he has lost a step and Lebron has only gotten better. I love the angle that you took by saying that Pierce can’t treat it as one-on-one anymore, but I honestly believe – just based on the competitor that PP is – he can still go tit for tat with Lebron. He can’t do it for 7 games, but I know he has ONE more big game in him.
    I hate it, but in reality, the Celtics chances are as slim as it gets, but I’m hoping that in the name of the original Big Three that PP, KG, and Ray Allen can put together just one more game to show these egotistical second generation players how basketball should really be played.
    Also, I wrote a little something on my blog ( on the Celtics after game two, particularly Rajon Rondo. Check it out if you get the chance and let me know what you think. I want to hear from a Celtics expert(s).

  • Matt33

    I actually felt like there was a moment there in Q3 where Pierce was going to get going, but instead we tried running more sets and forcing it in to Ray. (Even though Ray didn’t take a ton of shots, it looked like the offense stalled while Ray ran around screens trying to get free and we held the ball up top looking for him.)
    I agree though. Pierce can’t just do it on command anymore. He has to pick and choose his spots and once he has that rhythm, we ride it.

  • Shane

    I was at that game 5 years ago. The difference in Paul’s current game is VAST in comparison to how he played then. Not necessarily in terms of style or explosiveness, but if you were to look at film of that game versus film from 2 nights ago, you’d be able to see what I’m hinting at.

  • eddie

    Well there is noone in the league that can really battle and win against lebron. He is a freak of nature and the best player in the league. Yet i think the celts will step it up and win in the face of adversity like they always do! i wrote all about the celts on my site as well as have a link to an article that tells u how to bet it right here!

  • Special thanks to P.J. Brown

  • paul

    Jeez. Folks just refuse to wake up. Paul is not our first option. Rajon Rondo is our first option. He may not be our top scorer, generally, but it is his ability to break down the offense that is key. KG is our second option. Pierce is third. Fourth is situational.
    Wake up already. It’s not 2008 anymore.

  • Bobby

    I disagree. Our first option is always situational at this point. For stretches it could be either one of the BIG 4 but I beleive it depends more on matchups and who is hot at the time. If all is equal, Paul is still the first option at the end of games.