Washed up. Over the hill. On the decline.
Those are just a few of the adjectives used to describe Boston Celtics’ captain Paul Pierce these days.
But while the 14-year veteran might just laugh them off as nonsensical banter, his stat line suggests otherwise.
Through 57 games for the Celtics, Pierce is averaging 18.5 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.5 assists in over 33.9 minutes per game. He’s also shooting at just a 41.9 percent clip from the field and 36 percent from beyond the arc.
Sure, plenty players around the league would gladly take those numbers. But to Pierce, it’s somewhat of a down year.
Not to mention, the 35-year-old seems to have lost a step.
The separation he once created for his jump shot no longer comes with ease. The minutes still pile up but his legs no longer seem capable of handling them. He might look the same, talk the same, but make no doubts about it; he’s no longer the Pierce we all used to know.
As a result, Pierce’s name was one of the hottest topics leading up to last Thursday’s NBA trade deadline. There was a strong belief that Boston might consider parting ways with the player they drafted 10th overall during the 1998 NBA Draft.
However, the deadline came and went—and Pierce remained in green and white.
But that doesn’t change the fact that Pierce is having one of his worst statistical seasons in over 10 years.
Yet, believe it or not, he still remains one of the most clutch players around the league.
♣ ♣ ♣
According to NBA.com’s stat database, “clutch” stats are gathered from how a player performs within the last five minutes of a game with neither team winning by more than five points.
I crunched the numbers even further, down to the final two minutes with neither team winning by more than three points.
In either instance, Pierce doesn’t come out looking too hot.
After my adjustments, it shows that No. 34 has been in such situations 25 times this season—the Celtics are 15-10 in those games. Pierce has shot 11-of-36 (30.6%) from the field and 4-of-12 (33.3%) from distance, while sinking only 16-of-22 (72.7%) from the free-throw line.
Interestingly enough, he has the most field-goal attempts out of any other player in the league under the same circumstances. Garnett is actually second on the list with 34 attempts, followed by Kevin Durant’s 32.
However, among his peers, Pierce’s shooting numbers fall well below the curve.
But sometimes, numbers can be misleading.
In the 16 games this season that have been decided by five points or less—Boston is 9-7 in those contests—Pierce has averaged 22.7 points per game. That rises up to 23.7 per game in the nine victories.
Furthermore, he’s had 23 games where he’s scored 20 points or more thus far. Seventeen of those efforts have come in games decided by eight points or less.
Clearly, when the Celtics need him the most, Pierce is on his A-game.
Take the Jan. 7 showdown with the New York Knicks for example.
With Rajon Rondo suspended, Pierce put Boston on his back.
He finished 10-of-18 from the field for 23 points, six assists and three rebounds. That included eight points in the final quarter, capped off by a fade-away jumper, as the shot clock expired, with only 45 seconds remaining.
The Celtics went on to win 102-96.
Then there was his tremendous performance during Boston’s triple-overtime thriller with the Denver Nuggets on Feb. 10.
In the midst of a six-game winning streak, Pierce ensured that it would continue.
The Captain finished with a triple-double, recording 27 points, 14 rebounds and 14 assists. He shot 7-of-20 from the field and 5-of-9 from three-point range.
But his crowning moment had to be his game-tying, three-point shot with five seconds remaining to force a third overtime.
The Celtics would eventually prevail 118-114.
Of course, we couldn’t forget Monday night’s matchup against the Utah Jazz.
Boston was playing the final leg of a brutal five-game road trip in the matter of seven days. It didn’t help much that this game would also go into overtime.
Nonetheless, Pierce stepped up again, netting 26 points to go along with eight assists and seven rebounds. He shot 10-of-20 from the floor.
But he saved his best for last, scoring seven crucial points in the span of a minute and 15 seconds during the overtime period.
His efforts practically sealed the Celtics 110-107 victory.
♣ ♣ ♣
Those are just a few of Pierce’s many heroics this season. A season where Boston could use all the help it can get.
Time after time, the Celtics have looked down and out. But on numerous occasions, Pierce has been there to bail them out.
He literally does all the things that don’t show up in the box score.
And this is the guy Boston considered trading?
So the next time you decide to count these Celtics out, I suggest you take a look at the facts.
Sometimes, the Truth can set you free.
Other times, he could be just what your team needs to embark on another deep postseason run.
And maybe more.