LeBron James continued to show that he is the premier player in the NBA on opening night, scoring 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting, while grabbing 10 boards and dishing out three assists in a 13-point Heat win at American Airlines Arena Tuesday night.
But Paul Pierce showed, even at 35 years of age, that he has a lot left in the tank. Pierce scored 23 points in 40 minutes, while grabbing five rebound and dishing out five assists. He is still one of the best small forwards in the game, and the fact that he will likely retire as a Celtic sits well with Boston fans.
Pierce has now solidified himself as an All-Time talent in the Boston organization. He passed Larry Legend on the All-Time Celtics scoring list, and has to be in the discussion of the best five players to ever wear green and white.
Another championship this year would put Pierce in rare territory in the discussion of the greatest small forwards of all time. He’s not in the same class as John Havlicek, Julius Erving, or Larry Bird (though he did pass Larry), but he is in that next class with Dominique Wilkins and Scottie Pippen.
Pierce may now be a top-30 all-time great, and for as good as LeBron is, he doesn’t have the body of work that Pierce has. Though LBJ will likely retire with at least one more championship, Pierce has done it all with one organization, and that is rare in sports now. Pierce remained loyal to a team that had done nothing to warrant his loyalty, until they obtained Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen and brought Pierce the necessary help to win a title.
That is a legacy King James will never have. Pierce will always be able to play the loyalty trump card, and that holds a special place in Celtics’ fans hearts. Pierce even considered leaving this season because he thought the team may rebuild, but Danny Ainge’s commitment towards giving the team its chance to run its full course won out, and Pierce stayed and was rewarded again.
Now, the C’s have a legitimate chance at contending, which would send Pierce off nicely into the Hall of Fame. He’s going to make it, anyway, but a second ring would only further ensure first ballot status.
People will say Pierce is slowing down, but he still averaged 19.4 points per game last year, in addition to grabbing 5.2 rebounds and dishing out five assists per game. This season, if the first game is any indication, Pierce will continue to play big minutes and factor big in the C’s success. He may play big minutes all the way until the time he retires, which presumably will be when his current contract expires in two seasons.
But could Pierce play beyond that point?
It seems he could.