We already know Paul Pierce is a Hall of Famer. We also know that someday his No. 34 jersey will hang in the rafters of the TD Garden along with the likes of Bill Russell’s No. 6 and Larry Bird’s No. 33.
In other words, his legacy will be one of the greatest Celtics of all time, but where exactly does he fit on that prestigious list?
There are several things a great Celtic needs to do to cement their legacy. First and foremost, he has to beat the Lakers.
Paul Pierce did just that. While Kevin Garnett is credited with changing the culture of the team that led to the title, it was Pierce whose playoff heroics brought them home.
He was terrific in the opening rounds of the playoffs, specifically in his now legendary Game 7 duel with LeBron James. Pierce scored 41 points in that game to send King James home in 2008.
He was even better in the NBA Finals, outplaying Kobe Bryant en route to a six-game series win and championship.
The downside here is that Pierce only has one ring. Injuries to Kevin Garnett (2009) and Kendrick Perkins (2010) may have cost him a chance at forming a new Celtic dynasty.
Statistically, Pierce has been stellar as well. He is Boston’s second all time leading scorer (behind John Havlicek) and may eventually take that distinction. He is a 10-time All-Star, four time All-NBA player and even has a three-point championship to his name.
So now that we’ve broken down what Pierce has done to get his name on the list, we have to decide where exactly he falls on it.
The top four spots (Russell, Bird, Havlicek and Bob Cousy) are securely taken. Nothing Pierce does at this point short of winning several MVP awards and titles can change that.
Pierce is fighting with the next tier of guys: Kevin McHale, Dave Cowens, Sam Jones, Robert Parish and Tommy Heinsohn.
I’m immediately putting Pierce ahead of Heinsohn because of the era he played in, and ahead of the McHale/Parish combo because they were always second to Larry Bird. In other words, they were more amazing supporting pieces, but probably wouldn’t have won any championships without Bird.
That leaves Pierce in a three-way race with Cowens and Jones. So how does he stack up against those two?
I’d give Pierce a slight edge over Jones. Jones’ 10 championships definitely mean a lot, and while I think he was better than McHale and Parish, it does have to be noted that he was a supporting piece to Russell, Cousy and Red Auerbach.
I can’t put Pierce ahead of Cowens yet though. Cowens has two rings to Pierce’s one, has an MVP award in 1973 and was once named by Kareem Abdul-Jabar as the toughest person to ever defend him.
That resumé outweighs what Pierce has done. However, another championship might change things, especially if he beats LeBron James along the way.
So that’s where Pierce stands at the moment. He’ll end his career as either the fifth or sixth best Celtic of all time. Not too shabby for the No. 10 pick in the ’98 draft.
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