For Paul Pierce, it's been a season of disrespect in a career of forged by his doubters. Aldridge starts his interview detailing how The Truth fell to 10th in the 1998 NBA Draft. Ten years later when Pierce was the MVP of the NBA Finals, very few experts picked the Celtics to beat the Lakers. In 2010, even fewer had Boston coming out of the Eastern Conference, let alone making it to Game 7 of the Finals. And this season, after Rajon Rondo suffered a season-ending knee injury and Jared Sullinger and Leandro Barbosa befell similar fates, most wrote of the C's. Paul Pierce was left off the All Star Game roster for the first time in six years. He became the centerpiece of several trade rumors, including the most recent Woj bomb that had him packing his bags for Dallas with Josh Smith taking his place.
How did Pierce respond?
Like a boss. For weeks, the argument had been whether or not the Celtics were better without Rondo and the narrative never shifted to how well PP has been playing. Since Rondo's injury, Pierce has lead the team to an improbable 14-5 record, averaging nearly a triple-double with 18.4 points, 8 rebounds, and 6.5 assists. He's come up big in the team's biggest moments including overtime wins against Atlanta, Denver, Miami, and in Utah and notching two triple doubles. And it's just not in the numbers he's producing. The team could have fallen apart in February, but under his veteran leadership (and KG's), the team is playing better and winning.
Paul Pierce nominated for Eastern Conference Player of the Week ; award goes to Miami’s Dwyane Wade.— Chris Forsberg (@ESPNForsberg) March 11, 2013
Here's a little of that interview with Aldridge:
Me: When you won in '08 KG famously said 'anything is possible!' Are you carrying that to this year, especially with all the injuries?
PP: We know we're going to be a tough out, regardless. I think we're going to be that team that nobody wants to play in the playoffs. Right now we're so unpredictable. You don't know what we're capable (of). You look up and we play teams, sometimes we lose to bad teams, and then we beat the better teams. We don't know which Boston team is going to show up, and at any given moment we can get hot and beat the best of the best in the NBA. We've shown that we can beat Miami; we've shown that we can beat Oklahoma City; we've shown we can beat New York. You're talking about some of the best teams in the NBA. We're just going to continue to fly under the radar and see what happens.
And here's more from Jackie Mac's interview with Pierce before yesterday's game in OKC:
"It could have gone two ways," said Pierce in an interview Friday night. "We could have sulked, got down on ourselves and the team, or we could do what we're doing, which is rally together and use this as an opportunity to step up and prove everybody wrong."
Pierce acknowledged that when local and national pundits declared the Celtics' season doomed, it became a rallying cry in the locker room, with Garnett generating the most noise.
"We heard a lot of stuff after Rondo and Sully went down," Pierce said. "A lot of the guys in here didn't like it. They have too much pride.
"You couldn't help but hear it. All the time. I don't watch a lot of TV, because I don't have time with my kids and all, but it was impossible not to know what was being said. It was all around."
So often this season, a lot of fans and bloggers (including myself) have gotten caught up in what the team had done in the past and how the team will do in the immediate future or in seasons to come. Whether it's been the trade talk chatter or discussions about rebuilding vs. retooling or reminiscing about 2008, I don't think we're truly appreciating the season the team is having right now and more specifically, the leadership and gutty performances Pierce has been putting together over the last couple of weeks. Put plainly, he has been one of the best players in the league. This is put up or shut up time in the NBA and The Captain is delivering.
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In that interview with Aldridge, Pierce's response to one of his questions is a little sad to me. When asked about retiring as a Celtic, Pierce says, "You really don't see it, although you could see a few guys -- Kobe, Timmy D, Dirk Nowtizki. Those guys, there's probably a 100 percent chance they'll retire with their franchises. But, who knows? I've been in trade rumors the last two years. So you never know what can happen." I hate that there's doubt in Pierce's mind that he'll finish his career in Boston. Maybe it's that underappreciation by the fans this season that has fueled his mini-revival over the last twenty games. In the MacMullen piece, it's clear that he heard the rumblings from outside the locker room that the team was "doomed" and that maybe he was washed up. On one hand, I think we all need to give Pierce credit for turning this season around. But on the other, we all need to continue doubting him just so he can show us up, right?