18 points, 7 assists, 5 rebounds, 2 steals, 1 block.
Those aren't gaudy numbers. You'd expect that kind of stat line from anybody that plays 40 minutes. If you stand in the right place, take the right shots, and make the smart pass, a lot of NBA players will have a night like that, but The Captain is not like most NBA players.
Paul Pierce wasn't just standing around facilitating for his teammates, when maybe he should have been. Hours before the game, the Celtics diagnosed Pierce with a sprained MCL. The truth about his injury was finally officially revealed and he could have used it as an excuse for his poor play in Game 5, but The Truth didn't do that.
Before Game 6, I said for the Celtics to win, Pierce had to get to the free throw line and be aggressive. That seemed unlikely because of his knee injury, but to avoid a Game 7 in Atlanta, we'd need him in the paint. The Hawks had started sagging into the paint to neutralize Rondo's penetration and probing. To counteract that, Pierce had to shoulder some of the burden of creating for his teammates, bad knee and all, and like he's done time and time again, The Captain produced when it mattered most. Even though his body was failing him, he would not fail his team.
Asked how he felt after Thursday's game, Pierce admitted he was "a little tired and sore."
"I played a lot of minutes, had to guard one of the toughest one-on-one players in the league [Johnson] all night," he added. "That's the nature of this beast. You've got to be ready to bounce back Saturday -- one day of play, one day of rest -- you know this is it. We might never have this opportunity again."
With the lack of lift, his jump shot wasn't falling so what does Pierce inexplicably do? He turns the table on Father Time and takes it to the rack and takes it to the rack strong. Early in the game, he took it hard to the hole against Josh Smith and earned an and-1 on Kirk Hinrich. With the team keying on Rondo, he worked the elbows and found Garnett and Bass for jumpers. You're not supposed to be able to do that on a bad wheel. It would have been much easier for him to play the perimeter and hope to contribute with his mid-range game. He had the built-in excuse with the sprained knee, but Doc knew that wasn't going to happen. "Paul, he's a gamer. That's what he is."
KG's getting most of the pub this morning, deservedly so, but look at the last few possessions of the game. After Atlanta stole the lead and went up 3, Pierce drove baseline out of a double team and hit a pretty tough lay up against Josh Smith. Later, in almost an identical spot on the court, he blocked Joe Johnson's drive that could have tied the game and sealed Atlanta's fate by hitting two clutch free throws. Paul Pierce proved himself yet again in winning time. Honestly, can we finally put a moratorium on fan polls on whether or not Pierce is one of the greatest Celtics ever. If you're not on The Captain's ship by now, I'll see you in the comments section and it's not going to be pretty.