So there he was, the old guy in the field, just looking for a way to showcase his sweet stroke and have some fun during his 8th trip to the NBA All-Star game.
And then something incredible happened.
Like he’s done so many times before — be it in college as an underclassman or in the NBA as an underappreciated superstar — Paul Pierce rose above the odds and won the three-point shootout on Saturday night.
Pierce, they said, never would win this. His shot, they said, was too slow. Nobody was denying the fact that it’s pretty — and it is. But they never thought that Pierce could get off enough good shots to become a threat in the rapid-fire world of the three-point shootout.
For Pierce, it’s often been quality over quantity. He’s made a living — and a legacy — off of choosing his time to shoot wisely instead of being just another chucker. It’s worked. But Saturday night Pierce displayed the one thing that so many of his fans may have forgotten as he’s shaped himself into one of the most efficient and clutch players in the league during the past decade.
When it comes right down to it, Paul Pierce is still a gamer. The guy can play. And he can play however he has to play to beat you. He grew up in L.A., honed his skills on some of the toughest courts and in some of the most talent-filled gyms around and then he came to Kansas, where he learned how to turn all of that raw talent into gold. He became a more complete player, not just a flashy scorer. He learned the mental side of the game, was held accountable for his actions and discovered how things like effort, work ethic and energy are as important to a true ballplayer as things like sick handles, deep range and, of course, talking a good game.
After turning in a solid early showing on Saturday, Pierce caught fire in the final round, finishing with 20 points, including knocking down all five of the two-point money balls. How appropriate. When it came to the shot that meant the most, Pierce drilled every one.
Pierce’s 20 points outlasted 17 from Golden State rookie Stephen Curry and 14 from Denver’s Mr. Big Shot himself, Chauncey Billups. It also helped Pierce atone for what he called “almost a record low” when he scored just eight points during his last attempt at the shootout in 2002.
“I worked on it, I really took pride in it,” he said after his victory. “In ‘02 I stunk it up. I wanted to come in here and put on a show. I had to work on getting the technique down and knowing what side to pull the ball from, stuff like that. I knew if I got hot I could win it.”
As for the actual All-Star Game itself on Sunday night, Pierce chipped in eight points on 3-of-6 shooting — including 2 of 3 from downtown — during the East’s 141-139 victory over the West. Dwyane Wade finished with 28 points and took home MVP honors while LeBron James added 25 and Chris Bosh tallied 23 for the East. Carmelo Anthony led the West with 27.
But one night before all of those young guns who own today’s game flashed their stuff in front of a record-setting crowd of more than 100,000 fans, Pierce showed that the old gunslinger still has plenty left.