For 17 years, Washington Wizards small forward Paul Pierce has navigated up and down basketball courts in the NBA with precision. Pierce is in his first season with the Wizards, and at the age of 37, he might not be the focal point of their offense, but when the chips are on the table he can still get the job done. Pierce’s nickname is “The Truth” and throughout his basketball career he has backed it up.
After becoming an All-American at the University of Kansas, Pierce was the 10th overall pick of the 1998 NBA Draft by the Boston Celtics. At the time of Pierce’s arrival to the NBA, the Celtics were one of the worst teams in the NBA and in 2002, Pierce would help Boston reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time 1988. Pierce would hit numerous big shots in a Celtics uniform which was highlighted by by him helping Boston win the NBA Championship in 2008. Pierce would go on to be named NBA Finals MVP in 2008. Pierce spent the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Celtics where he was a 10-time NBA All-Star and only Basketball Hall of Famer John Havlicek has scored more points while wearing Celtic green than “The Truth”.
A trade in the summer of 2013 would send Pierce to the Brooklyn Nets where he was expected to provide a veteran presence in their locker room. Pierce showed his leadership skills as he put the Nets on his back last spring and led them to the second round of the NBA Playoffs for the first time since 2007. And when Pierce became a free agent last summer, he decided to take his show on the road once more on the East Coast; this time in the Nation’s Capitol.
Pierce knows that the Wizards are led by their explosive backcourt of point guard John Wall and shooting guard Bradley Beal, but that doesn’t mean that he cannot still be effective. Pierce’s 11.9 points per game this past regular season were a career low, but Wizards head coach Randy Wittman made a conscious effort to manage the veteran’s minutes on the floor as he only averaged 26.2 minutes per game this season. The result is a fresher Pierce now in the NBA Playoffs.
The Wizards entered the NBA Playoffs as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference while they prepared to meet the Toronto Raptors in the first round who won the Atlantic Division. And before the series began, Pierce didn’t have a problem playing the role of the villain. In an interview with Jackie MacMullan of ESPN, Pierce let it be known that the Raptors didn’t have “It”. When the Wizards traveled to Toronto for Game 1 of the series, the fans at the Air Canada Centre let Pierce hear it. But the more that the fans in Toronto expressed their displeasure for Pierce, the more that he torched them. Pierce went for 20 points in Game 1 as the Wizards won 93-86 and stole home-court advantage.
After returning home to D.C. with a 2-0 series lead, the Wizards looked to deliver the knockout blow to the Raptors. In Game 3, Pierce backed up his talk once again as he went for 18 points in the Wizards 106-99 victory which put the Raptors on the brink of elimination. And by the time that Game 4 rolled around last night, the ship had already left port as the Raptors didn’t have anything left and the Wizards swooped in for the kill with a 125-94 beat down which put an end to the Raptors season. For the series, Pierce averaged 15.5 points along with numerous incidents of frustration for the Raptors as he helped to eliminate them from the NBA Playoffs for the second consecutive year.
The Wizards made a run in the NBA Playoffs last spring when they gave the Indiana Pacers all that they could handle in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. And when the Wizards were eliminated, you knew that they weren’t that far off from becoming legitimate contenders for the NBA Title. Pierce knew that as well and he is providing the veteran leadership to the Wizards as they look to win their first NBA Championship since 1978. Pierce is attempting to be that missing link for them as young teams always need a veteran presence like his to show them the ropes. After making short work of the Raptors, the Wizards can now sit back and relax as they await the winner of the playoff series between the Brooklyn Nets and the Atlanta Hawks. And just like the flowers and trees are blossoming at this time of year, Pierce knows how to rise to the occasion as well.