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News » Pierce riding high after incredible year

Pierce riding high after incredible year

Pierce riding high after incredible year
It would be difficult to top the year that Paul Pierce has enjoyed.

The Celtics captain finally won his first NBA championship in his 10th season with the NBA's most storied franchise, was voted NBA Finals MVP after beating his hometown Lakers and became a father for the first time.

And, oh yeah, his former college, Kansas, won the NCAA Basketball title.

Barack Obama may have experienced a more memorable 2008, but few others did.

Pierce, however, is determined not to stop at winning only one ring. Win one NBA championship in Atlanta, Toronto, New Jersey, Orlando, Charlotte, Cleveland, New Orleans, Indiana, Dallas, Phoenix, Utah, Denver, Oklahoma City or Memphis and you'd become an instant legend because none of those locales have ever captured one. Winning one in Boston, home of an NBA-record 17 championships, however, is not enough to attain such lofty status.

But by winning his first NBA title, Pierce, 31, can at least begin to earn consideration to be ranked among the all-time Celtics greats. Pierce should soon jump ahead of Kevin McHale (17,335 points) into fourth place on the Celtics' all-time scoring list. Barring injury, he should eclipse Robert Parish for third later this season and could pass Larry Bird for second during the 2010-11 season, the last on his current contract.

Pierce would have to stay healthy and average 20 points over the next six years to beat John Havlicek's franchise record of 26,395 points. So that standard appears safe.

Pierce moved past K.C. Jones into seventh on the franchise's all-time assists list.

So where does Pierce rank among the all-time Celtics greats?

"That's a question I can't answer," Pierce said.

So who better to ask than Tommy Heinsohn, who played for, coached or broadcast each of their 17 championship seasons. No one knows Celtics history better than Heinsohn.

"Paul might end up being the greatest offensive player the Celtics have ever had," Heinsohn said. "I said that a couple of years ago and Larry Bird got upset."

Heinsohn gives Bird the edge over Pierce as a passer, but he thinks Pierce can score in more ways than Bird.

"He can play big," Heinsohn said. "He can play small. Inside, outside. Bird didn't have the diversity and the power game like this guy. Bird was a finesse player more or less. This guy is really terrific."

Heinsohn did not include Pierce, however, when asked to name his starting five of all-time Celtics greats. Heinsohn picked Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Havlicek and Bird, but he couldn't decide between Sam Jones or Bill Sharman as the fifth starter.

What about Pierce?

"Wait until his career is over," Heinsohn said.

Heinsohn is impressed that Pierce has become so much more of a team player.

"What he's done is totally change his game," Heinsohn said. "He's become a functioning member of the team other than having to carry the offense that I used to call, `Pass the ball to Pierce and pray.' It was all him. He's made major adjustments. He's not going to score as much, but he's got all the shots. There's no ands, ifs or buts. He's a terrific clutch performer. Defensively, he's improved. But Sharman was a terrific defensive player and so was Sam Jones."

Russell won the most championships as a Celtic - 11 in 13 seasons, but he had his limitations.

"Russell was not an all-around player," Heinsohn said. "He was an effective offensive player, but he was a genius on defense. He revolutionized the game. He was able to blend that in with other people."

Cousy basically invented the point guard position.

"Cousy was an offensive unto himself," Heinsohn said. "Russell was the defense and Cousy was the offense. All you had to do was get open and Cousy got you the ball."

Heinsohn played with Russell, Cousy, Jones, Sharman and Havlicek. He also coached Havlicek. He broadcast Bird's games.

"Havlicek was a sensational scorer," Heinsohn said, "and great defensive player, a lot better than people gave him credit for. Larry never played defense. He made the All-Defensive teams (second-team three times) because he was a roamer. They never put him on a guy that he was supposed to stop. He'd get in the middle, anticipate the play and break it up, all that stuff, but he couldn't guard a guy. A guy could break him down easily."

So who is the best all-around Celtic of all time?

"I'd probably say Havlicek for all he did," Heinsohn said. "A great passer, a great defensive player, a scorer, a clutch player. He's the all-time leading scorer."

The Celtics have had so many greats over the years, you could form an incredible team with players that Heinsohn didn't even mention. How would you like to go up against a fantasy team of Heinsohn, Kevin McHale, Dave Cowens, Robert Parish, Jo Jo White, K.C. Jones and Frank Ramsay?

Asked how he could top last year, Pierce replied, "Kansas win the title, I become a dad again and we win it again. That would top it."

Are all three of those a possibility right now?

"A possibility," Pierce said.

Condolences to Heinsohn, whose beloved wife Helen passed away on Monday after a six-year battle with cancer. Up until this season, Helen attended Celtics home games to be with her husband. Heinsohn often referred to Helen during Celtics broadcasts as "the redhead from Needham." She will be missed.

It's time to exhale...

The Celtics can finally exhale now that November is finally over. They played 16 games this month, more than in any November since they also played 16 in 1992, but they didn't play any games in October that year.

They played Oct. 28 and Oct. 31 this season so in 4-1/2 weeks they've played 18 games, or 22 percent of their 24-week regular-season schedule.

If the schedule were evenly distributed throughout the season, they would have played only 18.8 percent of their schedule so far.

The last time the Celtics played this many games or more through November was in 1980 when they went 6-3 in October and 9-4 in November, but the season started earlier and ended in March back then. The Celtics host Washington in their regular-season finale this year on April 15.

After playing 16 games in November, the Celtics will play 15 in December and January, 12 in February, 15 in March and 7 in April. As usual, February will be their toughest month. After hosting Minnesota on Feb. 1, they'll play eight of their next 10 games on the road and the Big Three could be headed to back to the All-Star Game on Feb. 15.

They'll conclude February with a home game against Indiana.

The end of the season looks much easier. They'll play six of their last eight at home.

Thibodeau waiting...

Celtics assistant Tom Thibodeau could be among the candidates to take over as head coach of the Washington Wizards next year. He may have been their head coach already if he hadn't changed his mind about accepting an assistant job under Eddie Jordan last season and joined Doc Rivers' staff in Boston instead.

The Wizards fired Jordan on Monday after a 1-10 start and hired director of player development Ed Tapscott as interim head coach. If Tapscott doesn't turn around the injury-riddled Wizards, they'll likely look elsewhere for a head coach. If Thibodeau had signed with Washington last season, the Wizards may have turned to him, not Tapscott, to replace Jordan.

Thibodeau can't complain how things turned out though. He devised the defense that propelled the Celtics to their 17th NBA championship last season and has them atop the Eastern Conference so far this year. The Celtics' title run lasted so long last spring, however, all the NBA head coaching jobs were filled so Thibodeau returned to Boston. Next spring, teams may decide to wait for him.

Jordan's firing in his sixth season as Wizards coach leaves New Jersey's Larry Frank with the longest tenure in the Eastern Conference. Frank has coached half a season less than Jordan, replacing Byron Scott as Nets head coach after a 22-20 start in the 2003-2004 season. Rivers and Toronto's Sam Mitchell, both in their fifth season, share the second-longest tenure in the conference.

In the Western Conference, this is Jerry Sloan's 21st year in Utah, Gregg Popovich's 13th in San Antonio and Mike Dunleavy's sixth with the Clippers.


Who is the best Boston Celtics player of all-time? Cast your vote at:

Celtics' upcoming games


Mon. 1 vs Orlando 7:30 p.m.

Wed. 3 vs Indiana 7:30 p.m.

Fri. 5 vs Portland 8 p.m.

Sun. 7 at Indiana 6 p.m.

Thu. 11 at Washington 8 p.m.

Fri. 12 vs New Orleans 8 p.m.

Mon. 15 vs Utah 7:30 p.m.

Wed. 17 at Atlanta 7 p.m.

Fri. 19 vs Chicago 7:30 p.m.

Sun. 21 vs New York 6 p.m.

Tue. 23 vs Philadelphia 7:30 p.m.

Thu. 25 at LA Lakers 5 p.m.

Fri. 26 at Golden State 10:30 p.m.

Sun. 28 at Sacramento 9 p.m.

Tue. 30 at Portland 10 p.m.

Author: Fox Sports
Author's Website:
Added: December 1, 2008


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