What’s Paul Pierce’s legacy in Boston? We all know that Pierce’s number will be raised to the rafters at TD Garden. It will probably happen next year. But, where does he fit in amongst Celtics greats? The Celtics have more all-time great players than any other team in Boston and also more than any other team in the NBA. For most teams, Pierce would be a top three all time player, but not on this one. This is a team that has won 17 NBA championships and Pierce was only a part of one of those. With that said, Pierce certainly had a tremendous impact on this team. He was the face of the organization for the better part of 15 years…and he led making the Celtics relevant again after some down years in the mid – late 1990’s.
Paul Pierce will be playing in his final game at TD Garden today. Obviously, Boston fans have another game on their minds today. However, Pierce will get the recognition he has earned in front of the Boston crowd today. He was a great player. He was an elite scorer. The question today is what will Pierce’s legacy be 10-20 years from now when we talk about all-time Celtics greats? We know the top two Celtics players of all – time are Bill Russell and Larry Bird. It’s going to take a pretty amazing player to get on that top two list and it’s very unlikely to happen anytime soon, if ever. From there, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy, Kevin McHale, and Pierce enter the conversation. All of these players won at least three championships while Pierce won one. Granted, all of these players had more talent around them than Pierce. Let’s take a look at some comparisons.
Pierce vs. John Havlicek
If you’re looking at numbers alone, they’re pretty similar.
Pierce: 19.8 points; 5.6 rebounds; 3.5 assists; .445 FG%
Havlicek: 20.8 points; 6.3 rebounds; 4.8 assists; .439 FG%
Offensively, these two players were similar. They could both get to the basket. Pierce was the better outside shooter. However, Havlicek was clearly the better defensive player. He made eight All-Defensive Teams. He was definition of a true all-around player. Pierce was solid defensively, but was never as good as Havlicek in this area. You can’t ignore that Havlicek was on eight NBA Championship Teams. In his prime years, he almost averaged a triple double. In 1970-71, he averaged 28.9 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 7.5 assists. Case closed. Again, Pierce was outstanding, but he was no John Havlicek.
Pierce vs. Kevin McHale
Here are McHale’s career numbers.
17.9 points; 7.3 rebounds; 1.7 assists; .554 FG%
Pierce was a better pure scorer than McHale. However, you can’t ignore that McHale’s FG% was a full 10 points higher than Pierce’s. Granted, Pierce took a lot more outside shots, but when McHale got the ball in the low post, it was over. He was scoring and there was nothing anyone could do to stop it. There are only three other players in the history of the NBA that you can make that statement about – Kareem, Shaq, and Olajuwon. That’s an impressive group! Similar to Havlicek, McHale was a great defensive player. He made six All-Defensive Teams. He could guard small forwards like Dominique Wilkins. He could guards the big guys as well. This is a close call, but McHale was the better overall player than Pierce.
Look. Paul Pierce was a great player. There’s nothing wrong with being the 6th man on a team with a starting five of Bill Russell, Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, John Havlicek and Bob Cousy.
Pierce will be remembered as the player who put the Celtic back on the map and made them relevant after a down time after the Bird, McHale, and Parish years.
He’ll be remembered as a great scorer who could take over a game by creating his own shot.
He’ll be remembered as a player who came up big when the team needed a clutch basket.
He’ll be remembered for out playing Kobe Bryant in the 2008 NBA Finals to lead the Celtics to their 17th NBA Championship.
He’ll be remembered as a great Celtic.
There are numbers up in the rafters that simply don’t fit in the elite category. #34 does.