Paul Pierce is my guy, through and through. I'm 20 years old, so I grew up during a time when it wasn't cool to be a Celtics fan. But when I was eight years old, a pretty cool thing did happen: The Celtics drafted Pierce. And that's when my experience as a Celtics fan really began. He was my first sports hero. My first superstar. And because he's basically defined my tenure as a fan of this team, he will never be topped in my mind. Sure, another young stud could crop up three years after Pierce retires, and I'll probably love watching him play as much as I love watching Rajon Rondo play right now. But no Celtics player, for the rest of my life, will compare to Paul Pierce. They say you never forget your first love. Well, in sports, I say you never forget your first superstar.
I bring this up only because Pierce put in another vintage performance against the Denver Nuggets last night: 27 points on 10-16 shooting, 7-7 from the free throw line, 7 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and a blocked shot. And I suppose, as I break into the third decade of my life, I'm really trying to appreciate performances like these, especially now, given the fact that we're ever so steadily glancing down the road towards the end of Pierce's career. He's 32, going on 33 later this year, so yes, the end is drawing closer, season by season. It's a horrific thought for me, personally, but it's something I'm going to have to come to terms with eventually.
But not right now. Because, at 32, he's clearly still more than capable of putting in these superstar performances. And I'm going to cherish every one of them. Because back when I was 10, 11, and 12, I obviously took performances like these from Pierce for granted. I expected them, and more often than not, he delivered. Retirement? What the heck is retirement? Surely, Pierce would play forever. And then, of course, as you get older, reality sets in.
But boy, did last night bring me back. It wasn't just the fact that he went toe-to-toe with Carmelo Anthony, and (in my eyes won the matchup) scored 27 points. It's how he did it. And it's always been about how he does it. Between getting out on the fast break and turning Rondo's assists into easy buckets, the put-the-shoulder-down relentless drives to the hoop - often culminating in a foul, a difficult layup and a foul, or a difficult layup and a lack of a call - and the myriad of step-back jumpers that are virtually unguardable, Pierce's game has been captivating to watch.
Sure, Denver isn't a great defensive team, but let's not belittle the fact that Pierce was absolutely in the zone from the opening tip last night. He scored 14 of his 27 in the first quarter, but at the rate he was scoring, it seemed like more than that - like he was just pouring in the points against any helpless defender the Nuggets threw at him. He stuck step-back jumpers in Melo's grill, scored on easy layups in transition, and made his free throws when he exploded to the hoop. It was classic Paul Pierce. And once you know he has at least six points, you start to keep the running tally in your head. Okay, he gets fouled. He makes the first. That's seven. He makes the second. That's eight. And on, and on.
So then he retreats to the bench for a break around the quarters, and if him scoring relentlessly isn't evidence enough of his will to win, he gets up on his feet and applauds the efforts of Glen Davis attempting to corral and eventually diving for an offensive rebound. That's another thing about Paul Pierce that makes him Paul Pierce. You never doubt his will to win. Ever. Not every kid had the privilege of growing up with superstars like that (see bitter fans of Carter, Vince).
And now you're just waiting for him to return to the game, because it's so much fun watching him just score, and score, and score. So he comes back in, blocks a Carmelo Anthony shot attempt, sprints down the middle of the floor, takes a Ray Allen pass, considers shooting a wide-open three-pointer, before deciding to stick his head down and make a tough drive to the hoop, where he puts in a contested layup.
But then of course, the referees come into play, and take Pierce out of it. He was called for his third foul of the game with 4:05 left in the second quarter. Based on the way he was scoring at that point (he had 16 at the time), there was no reason to think he couldn't put in 20-25 points by halftime. Which would have been great to watch. So, naturally, I erupt when I realize he's been called for his third foul. I scream, "NO!", and it's not a simple one-syllable burst. Instead, think Spider-Man 2 when Mary Jane Watson's about to get absolutely wrecked by the wall of that disintegrating building at the end, and Peter Parker screams, "NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!" Yeah, it was just like that. Here's a link to it. Fast forward to the 4:16 mark if you want to see for yourself.
And despite the three fouls, he still comes back in during the second half and manages to score 11 points over the final two quarters. Health is obviously playing a key role in this recent resurgence, and despite the somewhat surprising news about his most recent knee drainage, Pierce proclaimed after last night's game that he's as healthy as he's felt all season. And good thing to. Because the hindered Pierce - the one we saw for a few weeks following his return from the sprained thumb and other maladies - wasn't always pretty to watch. It was tough seeing him not be able to rise up high enough, or drive hard enough, or get enough lift to effectively launch his jump shot. And it's even more frightening to think that that could be the player we see a few years down the line - strictly due to age and a natural breakdown of his game.
But like I said before, I'm not worried about that just yet. It might linger in the air every so often, but for the time being, I'm focused on the present, and what Paul Pierce is doing for me right now. It's the same thing he's done for me and this team for his entire career. He's doing all he can to help his team win. And every once in a while, helping his team win means coming up with a vintage performance. And for someone like me, who's grown up witnessing, appreciating, and savoring Paul Pierce's game, there's nothing more exciting to watch.