October 13, 2009

NBA Top 50: Paul Pierce (No. 14)


Paul Pierce, originally uploaded by ryan_fors.
OtB is counting down the days 'til the NBA 2009-10 season tips off by ranking the top 50 players in the league. On Tuesday there are/were 14 days left.

Paul Pierce is a lion. When you talk Celtics, you're talking tradition. Pierce buys into that in a way many younger players don't, or maybe even can't. He's the last player left on the Celts who actually had Red Auerbach in his ear. As a Lakers fan, it's hard for me to ignore P-squared's relationship with LA. He was born in Inglewood and grew up idolizing Magic. Then he got drafted tenth by Boston in '98. Dude never looked back. Tore up the league. Sixteen plus for ten plus seasons. Picked up one of the ringing-est (I'm talking resonant not fingers) nicknames in the biz, dubbed the Truth by, that's right, an LA player.

I bring up Pierce's LA connection not for any grievance or retrieval, but rather to point out how successful he's been. Sure there were the losing seasons. But he's become so synonymous with Celtics basketball that...well, only an LA fan would bring up any of the stuff I just did. Sorry. Let's get to the point. While Garnett has been kind of like King Arthur, coming powerful and rallying the troops to fend off the invading Saxons (Lakers), or King Kamehameha for all my faithful in the 808, Pierce has been more like King Richard I. Y'know, the Lionheart. In this metaphor, the kingdom is the championship. Y'know what? It's a flimsy construct, but hear me when I say, though Pierce has not always led his teams to the playoffs, he's been in the trenches with his teams, not trifling with Guinivere (the first round) or Lancelot (Kobe? Lancelot was French, and the French are descendants of the Saxons...anyone else getting ready for the 2012 Olympics already?). His career pursuit has been pure: take his team to the Promised Land.

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Richard the Lionheart, originally uploaded by Morgan190.
Okay, okay, the point is despite Garnett seemingly coming to the Celts and turning them into a championship caliber team, Pierce was still the emotional leader on that team. Garnett had all the fire power, but Pierce provided the direction. We've been talking in these countdown posts a bit about guys who push teams over the top, spark plugs, catalysts, lightning rods drawing all the energy together, and we've been talking about guys who make teams work throughout the long haul of a season, engines that make contending teams go, horses. Paul Pierce is the rare combination of both these things. He's been there long term for the Celts since he got to the league. But, when push comes to shove, he also was able to inspire his team, push them over the top, take them to banner number 17.

Number 17 got number 34 the number 16 spot on my list last year. After another season on notice, the Truth just got that much clearer. Pierce is the real deal and. And another important number? He's only 31.

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