Paul Pierce Can’t Say Goodbye

Eight years and two months have slipped by and the greatest moment of Paul Pierce’s professional career is a distant memory. On June 17th 2008, the Boston Celtics annihilated the hated Los Angeles Lakers en route to their seventeenth NBA title with Pierce as their scoring staple. For Paul Pierce, it was an extraordinary moment. A ten year career led him to the pinnacle of his sport and reflexively, his championship possibilities were just beginning, and why not? Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett were iconic talents that blended together, so much so, they were dominant, particularly defensively, in 2008.

In 2008, at the age of 30 years old, Pierce was the Celtics leading scorer in the NBA Finals. He took 50 less shots than Kobe Bryant, made two more three pointers, had more trips to the line, dished out more assists, had a higher True Shooting Percentage and Offensive Rating. He was a better defender than the dynamic Bryant. Yes, Pierce was eternally mocked for his wheelchair antics but at the end of the day it was Pierce who helped the Celtics pull off a perfect season, one year after a disastrous Celtics season (18 losses in a row).

Two years later, at the age of 32, Pierce was back in the NBA Finals again, and facing friend/foe Bryant one more time. Pierce took 65 shots less than Bryant, made 7 fewer three pointers, went to the line 10 times less than Bryant, had 6 fewer assists, had a higher True Shooting Percentage and a lower Offensive Rating. He was a worse defender than Bryant whose Defensive Rating was 98. Pierce wasn’t the same player of two years ago, and because of it he lost the title in a heartbreaking moment. It was Pierce who was guarding Metta World Peace when World Peace hit the back breaking three that sealed the Celtics loss and thrust them into a cacophony of visceral pain.

Six years after that Game 7 heartbreak, Paul Pierce’s NBA repertoire has expertly devolved, turning him into an ordinary and forgettable 18 minute a game player. Nevertheless, in year 19, he will lace them up, according to the Orange County Register. The Bryant and Tim Duncan goodbye year will not be the Paul Pierce goodbye year. The 2021 Hall of Fame class of Bryant and Duncan will have a missing member: Paul Pierce.

Pierce’s last three years have been average or worse, 13.5 points, 11.9 points, and last year’s dismal 6.1 points. While a lot of shade was thrown at Bryant’s 35.8% field goal percentage of 2015-16, Pierce wasn’t much better at 36.3%. It was the first time in Pierce’s career he has not cracked the 40% barrier. His three point shooting was equally catastrophic, 31.0%, a career low as well. His season PER of 8.2 was worse than Nick Young, Alonzo Gee and Metta World Peace.

Old Dogs Not Learning New Tricks Points FG% 3-PT% PER Offensive Rating
Kobe Bryant (2015-16) 17.6 35.8% 28.5% 14.9 95
Paul Pierce (2015-16) 6.1 36.3% 31.0% 8.2 93

When the Clippers signed Paul Pierce to a guaranteed two year deal, they anticipated his veteran leadership mixed with championship experience, as well as three point shooting and clutch playmaking. But his 18 minutes per game often resulted in missed shots, an inability to guard younger players, and a bitter end to  a season where his impact was negligible.

Its not sad that Pierce is at the end of the line, like Bryant was last season; the limitations of a professional sports career bring athletes here, at the end, a mirage of their younger self.

Injuries haven’t eroded who Pierce was as much as Father Time has. He’s an old guy playing a young man’s game. But 19 years after his NBA debut, Paul Pierce will continue his presence in the NBA ecosystem.

Players have the right to say when they will retire. As long as someone wants to pay them and they feel like playing, they can. But pragmatically, there’s not much Pierce can offer the Clippers who are an old veteran team that already struggle against the younger Warriors and Thunder, and that’s without Pierce doing much of anything.

With Paul Pierce, the Clippers are not better, just older. With Paul Pierce the NBA is not better either, just nostalgic.


photo via llananba