Postgame Spread
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Friday, June 06, 2008

The Time To Abide Is Over    

Enough.

Paul Pierce was, and still is, hurt.

Deal with it.

I'm sorry that everyone and their mothers has compared his recovery to Willis Reed's. I'm sorry you had that silly comparison shoved down your throats. I'm sorry you had to see him carted off in such a graceless manner. I'm sorry his return seemed so convenient. I truly am.

That does NOT mean he wasn't hurt. It just means you got surprised. It happens. Get over it.

Is it really that hard to believe? You know what happens when you tear a knee ligament? You go down for a minute in excruciating pain, spring up to your feet again as if nothing had happened, and then succumb to swelling and stiffness a few hours later. Pretty much exactly what happened to Pierce. While he doesn't appear to have torn anything, he was visibly limping after the game. Or was he faking that too? A second lie to hide the first one? Is that more believable than seeing a man play through a legitimate, albeit minor injury?

I am continually amazed by the ability of the human mind to deny, deny, deny.

But on the whole, this idiot reaction outside of New England isn't surprising to me. People have been doubting Paul Pierce since he entered the draft. This is no exception.

Why that bothers me so much, in two parts:

1. Nobody's been paying attention to The Truth... and they should have been

The Truth just can't win with some people.

Pierce has never, and I mean never, gotten the respect he deserves from the national media or the league fanbase. There is a double standard applied to Pierce's achievements and failures that is not applied to the more talented peers. Doubting his injury is just the latest entry in the ongoing saga of Paul Pierce being doubted. It started on draft day, and it hasn't stopped yet.

I believe this misconception originates with Pierce's nonathletic style. He's basically a smaller version of Carmelo Anthony... he can, and will, score on you in every imaginable fashion, but it won't look pretty. He's never been a Kobe/LeBron/VC-style dunking 2/3 swingman; he relies so heavily on unspectacular high-percentage plays (dribble penetration and foul shooting) that his best work rarely draws attention. The results are basically the same, and yet Pierce is considered a second-run 2/3, rarely mentioned in the same breath as Carter, McGrady and others.

(Ironic that Pierce's #1 strength, taking it to the hole as a matter of course, is the precise thing that the likes of VC and T-Mac are taken to task for when discussing their 4th quarter struggles. And yet VC and T-Mac are the "superstars," while reliable 4th quarter scoring stud Pierce dangles in purgatory. Huh.)

Yes, he's been on six All-Star teams, and is a well-recognized player who's been in shoe commercials and whatnot. People who know seem to hold Pierce in esteem. But he's always been viewed with a "but" of some kind attached.

More important than the lack of credit given for his successes, though, is the total lack of slack given for his failures.

We can start with his epic mental collapse in Game 6 against Isiah Thomas' Pacers a few years back. It's tough to argue that Pierce should have shoved Jamaal Tinsley like that, but I found it unnecessary to heap so much blame on Pierce for a) responding in kind to a hard foul and b) falling victim to such an obvious exaggeration by Tinsley. That's some Shane Battier shit right there. When one considers, further, that the Celtics would have been nowhere without Pierce's contributions, let alone Atlantic Division champs, the amount of grief Pierce absorbed was rather out of line. He's spent the last three seasons trying to live that one play down. That's bullshit.

Then there's the age-old question of his supporting cast. No help better than Antoine Walker. Years and years and years of mind-numbing play from the likes of Mark Blount, Marcus Banks, Wally Szczerbiak. And yet it's always been Pierce's fault, because at the end of the day, it's his job to get it done with the hand he's dealt. If he were a real Celtic, he'd have blah blah blah.

Adding insult to failure is the stigma, unfairly attached to Pierce, of being seen as a me-first black hole on offense. Let me get this straight... he chose to keep the ball instead of passing off to Tony Allen and Sebastian Telfair, and that's the reason they lost? Recognizing that he really WAS the only decent player on the roster? Of course! What a bastard!

It'll always be something.

And it's not right. Some guys are ripe for that kind of criticism, deserving of that grain of salt, that cynical eye, based on their past transgressions. You will not find anything on Pierce's resume to warrant what he's dealt with in ten years as a Celtic. Snafus and dust-ups? Sure. Frustration? Absolutely. Self-perpetuated destruction? No way. The guy's a pro.

Anyway, all this adds up to Pierce being, in my view, one of the most (if not the most) underrated NBA players in recent memory. There's talk nowadays that a championship cementing his place in Springfield, and of Game 1 securing a spot for #34 in the rafters. As if he'd just sprung out of the ground this season. Wrong. The Hall and the rafters have been done deals for a long, long time. Everyone who thinks he needs a ring to be recognized for the superstar he is only expose how closely they haven't been watching Paul Pierce.

2. Convicted floppers have poisoned the well of credibility

Cry wolf often enough, and people won't believe you no matter what's after you.

All season long, we suffer through the tomfoolery of REAL cheaters like Manu Ginobili, LeBron James, Anderson Varejao and the like who gladly collapse in agony at the slightest touch with the express intent of fooling the referees. Flopping, faking injuries and engaging in other chicanery to gain a competitive edge, so long as it's not caught by the refs, has become a tacitly accepted part of the game.

Because the league has refused (until recently) to get serious about the problem, we in the audience have no choice but to accept it ourselves. As a result, it's not just the credibility of phony scumbags like Ginobili and LeBron that comes into question, but that of every player in basketball. Nowadays, any injury that doesn't involve blood, protruding bones or detached eyeballs is cause for doubt.

So, after seeing Pierce return from injury so promptly, one questions just how seriously he was hurt. Which is fine. He clearly wasn't hurt that badly, because he came back.

But why does that make him a faker? Is there no difference between "not hurt that bad" and "not hurt AT ALL"??? Is it really so hard to believe he was just being careful? What's so wrong with how he played it? Was it the 3rd and 4th people carrying his legs that were so upsetting? It was Tony Allen and Brian Scalabrine! It's not like they were busy. Why not be careful?

More importantly, what in Pierce's resume would make you think he was faking? He is not a cheap player, a manipulative gamesman, a mind-fucking liar. He's not a self-protective ego case. He's just a baller. The genuine article. A basketball junkie (search that article for "junkie") more in tune with The Right Way To Play Basketball, NBA history, and his place in it, than the vast majority of his peers. That nickname of his isn't just some bad-ass moniker... it's what he is. He is The Truth.

Above all, he's a tough motherfucker. Last year was the first time in a long, long time that Paul Pierce has missed significant time due to injury. But it wasn't the first time in recent years that he'd been injured. Not by a long shot. Like Allen Iverson, he plays through the little shit and throws himself into the breach anyway. He doesn't have to answer to anybody on the subject of toughness.

And yet he has nevertheless been saddled with the cynicism borne from what we see from fakers like LeBron and Ginobili.

Why? Because The Truth just can't win with some people.

Enough.

Paul Pierce is not your average player. If you don't see why he's so different, you're not looking closely enough. I know, I know, it'll take more than five or ten minutes to do that. I'm really sorry about that. But that's what it takes to be right.

Reexamine him, regardless of wins and losses. He deserves it.

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