Veritas vincit - Truth conquers (Latin)
Paul Pierce is The Truth. That's not changing. This isn't an attempt to change his nickname. But he's maturing, and I kind of like the sophisticated way Veritas (Latin for "truth") sounds. Besides, I've been meaning to work that into a post title for a long time.
Maturation means growth and wisdom. It also means losing some of the advantages of youth. It will be interesting and fun watching Pierce this year just like it has been interesting and fun watching him his whole career.
I won't bore you with a long rehash of his NBA journey. Others have done it with much more eloquence than I'm capable of. But I can't help but reflect briefly on the career of a man that I've watched grow up game after game after game. I'm about the same age as Paul, so at each turn I could empathize somewhat with the seasons of life he was going through.
From trying to find his way in the world after college, to overcoming adversity, to not always reacting to circumstances in a constructive way, to rededicating himself and finding redemption by embracing the help of others. It almost plays out like a cheesy movie where the good guy gets the girl at the end. But the credits haven't rolled yet. There's more to the story.
Mortality is creeping up on Paul. He just didn't look the same game-in, game-out last year. When he needed to, he was more than capable of reaching down, tossing the team on his shoulders, and leaping tall buildings. But you could tell that he was a step slow on a number of nights. With KG out, he and Ray had to do more heavy lifting than they were capable of sustaining.
More than a few people whispered that Paul must have been hiding a nagging injury and it turned out that they were right. After the playoffs the team revealed that he had been playing through bone spurs. That is just the kind of thing you have to expect when a player hits the other side of 30. Not all injuries are the "he'll miss X number of weeks" variety. Playing through pain becomes a part of the routine, but it takes a toll.
The nice flipside to maturity, however, is the increased ability to think the game through. In the past Paul has taken younger players under his wing, embraced a leadership role that wasn't always natural to him, and committed all-in to a defensive focus and philosophy like he never did before. Now he has to find ways to be a force without finding himself on the trainers table.
Then again, that might not be as hard as it sounds. Jordan had to reinvent himself when he couldn't dunk over 7 footers anymore. He had to rely on spacing, angles, perfect timing, a killer mid-range game, and lots of time at the charity stripe. I'm not saying that Pierce is MJ, but doesn't that sound like the style of play that Paul already plays?
I mean, Pierce never blew by people with quickness alone. He slowly drifts till his defender is positioned how Paul wants him, then he attacks the angle that the defender can't defend. He's so good at this that sometimes he can run defenders into each other or create an impromptu screen where it was never drawn up.
I can't help but grin when I watch him saunter into the lane, seemingly without a plan, only to watch him pick apart the defense in near slow motion. Sometimes he uses that spin move which is really more of an abbreviated post up because it is designed to seal the defender and leave him out of position. Sometimes he simply can't find an opening and settles for creating contact (leaving more than a few defenders gaping at the refs).
And of course you have to love the trick where he swings his arms up into the opponent's outstretched arm, forcing the ref to call the foul even if everyone in the building knows exactly what Paul was doing. Hey, if Reggie Miller can get away with that leg kick his whole career, Paul is allowed his arm-swing trick. That's what veterans do.
Few players in the league can create offense out of nothing the way Paul can. That is a critical role on this team because sometimes the offensive flow stops flowing and the points need to come from somewhere. Ray needs a good pick and a good pass to operate at optimal efficiency. KG likes to take what the defense gives him. Rondo is a distributor. But when the defense is taking away what those guys do best, Paul is the one who gets creative. He adapts and attacks and adapts and attacks until he finds a weakness.
Paul might not be the player he used to be, but in many ways he's better. I can't wait to see what he adds to his bag of tricks this year. Maturity can be a good thing.