The Underrated: Paul Pierce

By @BigBallinAXEL 

From early on in his career, Paul Pierce has always been doubted and underrated. Despite averaging 20.0 PPG and 7.0 RPG on 51% shooting his junior year on a loaded Kansas team, Pierce fell to 10th in the 1998 draft due to concerns with his lack of speed and scouts calling him soft. Pierce said that year he wanted to make the teams that passed up on him pay and he certainly did that over an illustrious 18 year career being the 2nd best player from that draft (Dirk is 1st). Today I'll chronicle the pre big 3 years that Pierce doesn't get enough credit for, his heavyweight battles he's had with the other wing players over the past decade, playoff success, clutch moments and his underrated stats.

Pierce had a good rookie year which unfortunately came during the lockout shortened season of 1998-99 which was only 50 games. His career stats would be slightly better without this asterisk, but averaging 17 PPG, 6 RPG, 2 SPG and shooting 41% from 3 is impressive for a rookie coming into a team that was coached by Rick Pitino. Vince Carter beat him out for rookie of the year, but Pierce let it be known that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with.

His 2nd year was good as well as he elevated his scoring to 20 PPG while grabbing 5 boards and getting 2 steals, but his career was almost cut short during the following offseason. During an argument at a Boston club in September of 2000, Pierce was stabbed 9 times. With 1 of the wounds coming less then an inch from his heart, he said himself had he not had on a heavy coat, he would've died. He had to go into emergency surgery and the doctors advised him not to play basketball, but Pierce showed true toughness in his response. Not only did he play all 82 games in his 3rd season, he had one of the greatest seasons of his career and put the NBA on notice that a superstar was about to emerge. Averaging 25 PPG, 6 RPG, and 2 SPG after an incident like that only proved that Pierce was on his way to being an elite wing at a time when he was overshadowed by the likes of AI, Kobe, T-Mac and Vince Carter.

2001-02 was finally the breakthrough for Pierce though. His team finally got into the playoffs for the 1st time in 7 years, he finally got his 1st of 5 straight All Star nods after averaging 26 PPG, 7 RPG,and 2 SPG while shooting 40% from 3. He formed a dominant duo with Antoine Walker, who was also a 20 PPG underrated scorer in his own right, and had some flat out dominating performances. His most memorable regular season performance has to be when he scored 48 against the Nets. It wasnt just a regular 48 points because he started the game ice cold by shooting 1/16 in the 1st half. However, the thing that separates Pierce from a lot of guys was his resiliency as he poured in 46 points in the 2nd half to lead the Celtics to an OT win. He also was the 1st Celtic to lead the NBA in total points since Larry Bird with 2,144.

Pierce also had some memorable moments in the playoffs, scoring 46 points and connecting on 8 three pointers in the 1st round against the Sixers in an elimination game and spearheading a 26 point 4th quarter comeback against the Nets where he scored 19 of his 28 points. The Celtics fell short in a 4-2 series loss, but the fact that they made the ECF for the 1st time in over 10 years showed the Celtics had something special on their hands.

I have to fast forward to his 2005-06 which was the best season of his career. After moderate playoff success with no shot of contending the few years prior and having Antoine Walker and Ricky Davis (his best 2nd options pre big 3) traded, Pierce was full fledged given the keys to a youth movement where he was in the starting lineup with the likes of Orien Greene, Brian Scalebrine, and Brandon Hunter. At times, Pierce was depended on to put the team on his back and delivered. Averaging 27 PPG 7 RPG and 5 APG and shooting 47% from the field, leading his team in all categories, Pierce showed a versatility in multiple categories that was wasted due to his inexperienced teammates.  The Celtics fell just short of the playoffs. Pierce had some of his best career games that season, including a duel with Lebron where he scored his career high of 50 without any 3 pointers and scoring 39 against Kobe. Pierce usually always delivered against the other stars. Pierce also scored 30 or more in 13 straight games, which is a franchise record. He also lead the league in scoring in February at 33 PPG.

After an injury plagued 06-07 year, Pierce voiced his frustration with Ainge and he finally got legit help when the Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett trades occurred and it was questioned if Pierce would sacrifice his game and he delivered. Averaging 20/5/5, he was the number 1 shot creator on this 66 win team that won a championship and was the finals MVP averaging 22 PPG, 7 RPG and 4 APG for the series. 07-08 was a special year, mainly highlighted by the CLASSIC Eastern conference Semifinals duel he had with Lebron in game 7, where he dropped 41 and Bron had 45, which is definitely his signature game.

Paul Pierce is one of 4 players to have averaged at least 18 PPG or more in at least 14 seasons, is 4th all time in 3 pointers made, is 15th on the all-time NBA scoring list, 2nd in Celtics history in points and a 10 time All Star. Pierce has been the model of consistency his whole career, yet he was overshadowed by a lot of other wings from his era. When he retires, hopefully he gets his just due as a clutch player who could score in a variety of ways and held his own versus all his contemporaries. Now I'll leave you with Paul Pierce game winners he's had throughout his career.



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