Player A – 25.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 4.8 APG, 1.5 STL, .451 FG%, .334 3PT%, 23.2 PER, 173.1 Win Shares. 17 All Star Teams, 2 time Finals MVP, 15 time All-NBA teams, 12 time All-NBA Defense Team
Player B – 20.7 PPG, 5 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.4 STL, .478 FG%, .371 3PT%, 20.1 PER149.1, Win Shares. 10 All Star Teams, 1 time Finals MVP, 4 time All-NBA Teams
Player C – 27.3 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 6.9 APG, 1.7 STL, .496 FG%, .342 3PT%, 27.7 PER, 178.9 Win Shares. 11 All Star Teams, Rookie of the Year, 2 time Finals MVP, 10 All-NBA teams, 6 time All-NBA Defense Team
We can all make our own judgements about those 3 players based on the information given. It may not tell the whole story, but it gives us a nice rounded view as to what these players did in their careers. Two players stand above the other one. Keep these numbers in mind as we will revisit who these players are.
A Red Giant is the largest star in the star cycle. Our son is a Red Giant. A Red Giant is extremely visible and gives life to everything around it (or kills it, but follow me). The White Dwarf? It is a remnant of what the Red Giant used to be. It is on it’s last leg. Burned up all of the fuel it needs to continue on being a Red Giant. A White Dwarf is still visible, and can even be spotted as a major star in the night sky at times, but it will never be a Red Giant again.
In the weirdest way possible. I just described Paul Pierce. Pierce wasn’t the most massive of Red Giants, but he was a giant. You didn’t see him through all stages, but you definitely were aware of his heat and presence. This accurately describes Pierce’s career. He was always hovering around the top 10-15 players, but you never viewed him as top dog. And you know what? That’s OK. The role and career that Pierce had would make a few top 50 NBA players of all time jealous (Rick Barry agrees). See, Pierce didn’t need to be the greatest ever. He didn’t need to be the Red Giant, he just needed to be amongst the Red Giants and pick his moments to shine above the rest.
I’m sure all of this is confusing, but I will get to the point. I was always aware of Pierce. I am a Lakers fan, even if the Celtics suck I am watching them. I want to know my enemy. Pierce was a highly gifted scorer and basketball player. I never got the sense he was way more athletic than everyone else. However, he always seemed a step ahead. This is a trait that has followed Pierce into his current iteration. He is a damn smart basketball player. He doesn’t need to be Lebron with athleticism, he isn’t Curry when it comes to 3’s, and he isn’t Nash when it comes to finding the open man. Although, the thing that made Pierce, Pierce? He was somehow that when he needed to be.
When I am judging an NBA career, I don’t start with the lows. I want to see where a man was at his greatest. Viewing things this way is what made me love and hate Pierce. Instead of giving the whole history and dragging on more, I want to recount two very important pieces in Pierce’s career that made him the alpha Red Giant, even if it were only for a small time and he wasn’t the biggest Red Giant out there. Those two moments? Going head to head against Kobe and Lebron and actually winning.
In case you forgot about the initial stats to begin with, Lebron is Player C. Anyone who has ever watched basketball knows that Lebron’s place in the NBA hierarchy is bounds above where Pierce’s is. In 2008, Pierce showed this wasn’t the case.
Now, Pierce has had a history of going at Lebron since Lebron’s rookie year. There are multiple angles as to why, but lets just leave it at Pierce thinks Lebron is a bitch. He still does. He will probably die holding onto that thought. 2008 was around the time that everyone started crowning Lebron as an evolutionary Magic or some better version of MJ. We know this not to be true, but ESPN will do what ESPN does. Pierce hated this. He just fucking hated it. Pierce has an old man game (anything that doesn’t involve shooting 3’s or driving to the lane is apparently old now) and Lebron was the new generation of what a superstar should be. It was just great theatre at the time, even if you didn’t view Pierce as a Lebron equal.
Full disclosure: I am a stats guy. I love advanced stats. The advanced stats say Pierce wasn’t even the best guy on his team and that Kevin Garnett was more Lebron’s equal than Pierce was. I’m here to say throw that the fuck out of the window. Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals. Lebron threw up a 45/5/6. The supposedly 3rd best player in the series? 41/4/5. If you haven’t seen the game, you need to leave this column and go to YouTube.
Back? Great. Pierce went toe to toe with a legendary Lebron performance. We aren’t talk about just a great game, but a legendary performance that saw Lebron attacking the rim like he has lost his damn mind. A tactic that has always best suited Lebron. It was an amazing back and forth. It wasn’t a game 7 between the Celtics and the Cavs, it was a glorified street ball game between Pierce and Lebron. A fight where Pierce came out the winner. It was basketball magic and something we may never see again due to evolving play style. All I know is this: Pierce went up against a Lebron hitting his stride, and outstrided him. He was the Red Giant that game 7, even though he was nothing like Lebron’s shine throughout the season.
Fast forward to the 2010 Eastern Conference Finals. A clearly aging Pierce took it to Lebron on defense, who was probably the best player in the league at this point or damn close to it. Pierce only averaged 14.3 points for the series. However, he held Lebron to 21.3 points per game on 34% shooting. He was also 32. A geezer by NBA standards. A 32 year old essentially did his best lock-down impression on who is supposed to be one of the greatest players of all time. Watch the series. Pierce is huffing and puffing at almost every break. It was his final “My Red Giant is Shining Brighter Than Yours” moment. To be honest, it was my favorite. Pierce transformed into a defensive stopper specifically to counter Lebron.
Let the record state: Pierce once out-gunned Lebron in a series (no one besides Dirk has done that) and also put the defensive clamps on him (something only the entire Spurs team did). Pierce did both. To Lebron. A player clearly leagues better than him. Like I said, Red Giant, man.
This one hits me in the feels. Kobe was the best player in the NBA. The Celtics had the big 3, but it seemed like Kobe was coming for the league after playing with piles of shit for years. Kobe had Pau, he had his Robin to his Batman. This is all fun and good, but there was that god damn The Little Red Giant That Could waiting in the wings. By the way, Kobe is Player A.
To be fair, this was a team effort. However, Pierce being the insanely smart and old man basketball player he is, recognized one thing. This Lakers team wasn’t that talented. They had Kobe. They had Pau. That was about it. Pierce realized that if he took it to Kobe that there weren’t many other options. Pierce was on Kobe a ton. Kobe was even hid off of Pierce at time because Kobe just didn’t have the energy to be an All-NBA two way player on both ends like he needed to.
Pierce outplayed Kobe. Again, Kobe may have been the best player by all advanced comparisons, but Pierce was the guy in this series. He sealed this with an MVP. Pierce was just up to answer the Kobe challenge. Unlike Lebron (who he thinks is a bitch), Pierce really respected Kobe. Kobe respected him. It was old school Lakers and Celtics. It was a damn beautiful series.
I hope my analogy is clear now. Kobe and Lebron are two of the best 3 players of this generation. They were the Red Giants all of us saw. Pierce was the one Red Giant who shone every now and then on a Sportscenter clip. He was the greatest in great moments. Pierce is the only player I remember taking down two legends and standing toe to toe with them. He wanted it. He needed it. He loved it. I hate he stole a title from my Lakers, but god damnit was he treat to watch. We watched history in his battles with Kobe and Lebron. Sure, both of them went on to get the best of them. But Pierce got them first.
And for that, Pierce’s star will forever shine. Even in it’s dying White Dwarf phase, his Red Giant beams will live on for a long time.