Paul Pierce is making this look easy. In fact, that's pretty much become the best definition of his game.
Has he lost a step? Has he started to lose some of his explosiveness? How can you tell? Pierce picks his spots, sets up his defender with 2 or 3 moves like a chess player then very deliberately switches direction and takes advantage of the open space he just created.
Remember when he was young and brash and at times out of control? Well, the brashness hasn't exactly gone away (as evidenced by his flaps down lap around the MSG court) but he's very much under control these days. Remember when he was the best and only option on the pre-big-three era teams and he would take the ball at the top of the key and more often than not call his own number? Now we can look back and consider that training for the role he's taken on now.
In the absence of Rajon Rondo and with Nate Robinson playing the role of backup point guard that really is better off the ball (formerly filled by Eddie House), Paul Pierce has become a point forward.
Consider this stat from Sean Grande. Since March of 2008, no Celtic other than Rajon Rondo had registered double figure assists until Nate Robinson did it on Nov. 22. In the last week, Paul Pierce has done it twice.
In the dark ages of Mark Blount, Ricky Davis, and Marcus Banks we got used to seeing Paul Pierce isolation plays blow up in his face. He would drive the lane, the defense would collapse, his teammates would stare slackjawed, he would make a vain attempt to create contact, and somehow the ball would fly straight up in the air as his arms flailed helplessly.
Fast forward to the present. Nate Robinson is a great spark off the bench but he's not likely going to be described as "steady" anytime soon. When he's on, he has the green light. But I've seen a couple of times where he's been a bit out of control for a few plays in a row. And that's the point where Paul steps in and says "I got this."
Of course it helps a lot that the core group has played together for over 3 years (including long playoff runs each year). He doesn't have the point guard chops that Rondo does, but he knows exactly where everyone is going to be on the court at all times. He's see Ray Allen run off so many curls that he can deliver the ball to him blindfolded. He knows that when KG sticks his butt into his defender and snarls that he should wait two beats then deliver the ball to his right hand and run his man to the other side of the paint.
And he knows that when the defense has no choice but to stay spread, that the lane is going to be open and he has room to operate and create those slow motion spin-drives to the hoop that everyone sees coming but nobody can defend.
It has been mentioned a few times on this site and it is being repeated often on other sites today, but since I haven't said it yet, I'll repeat it once again: Paul Pierce is doing whatever this team needs from him. He doesn't force anything but when you look up at the box score he's got his points in. It doesn't always end up in the stats either. Sometimes he just makes the guys on the court around him look better. And of course he's always there at the end to put the finishing touches on the game - be it getting to the line, setting up his teammates, or of course hitting a clutch shot to seal the deal.
Right now his team is missing its quarterback but they haven't missed a beat because their jack of all trades has picked up the slack. Yet somehow, he still makes it look easy. That's our Captain.