BOSTON – His nickname is The Truth, his title is captain, and his position is forward. But perhaps it is more descriptive to refer to Paul Pierce as the Celtics’ rudder.
Even though he leads the club in scoring, he doesn’t always post the biggest numbers, and sometimes the best thing he does is create space for others to be more spectacular.
But a little Paul Pierce can go a long way, as the Celts most certainly rediscovered in a pair of games against the Bobcats last week.
He was held out for rest in Tuesday’s 26-point loss in Charlotte — the Celtics’ worst performance of the season — and while it would be inappropriate to lay that dribbling debacle entirely at the feet of his absence, the Celtics were stunningly without direction.
On Saturday night, Pierce was on the floor for 23 minutes, and he managed to squeeze in 14 points, six rebounds and a game-high eight assists. It may be impossible to completely atone for that loss to the worst team in the NBA, but with Pierce setting a proper tone, the Celts led by as many as 26 on the way to a 105-88 victory over Charlotte.
Charlotte Coach Mike Dunlap stood in the hallway after his 52nd loss of the season and graciously listed the way Pierce can pierce an opponent.
“There are three things in terms of the offensive side of the ball,” Dunlap said. “He plays up top, and they use the pick and roll up there nice. And then when he’s not going up top, then he’ll post you. And then the third part of his game are easy baskets, free-throws. He’s inevitably going to get to the free-throw line.
“He’s much like (Carmelo Anthony). He’s diverse in how he does things, and he can get some cheap ones off the offensive boards.”
Then the coach got to the heart of the matter — the stuff that isn’t on the stat sheet but most certainly finds its way into the final score.
“The other thing,” said Dunlap, “is that obviously he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, and two is he just settles the entire team down. He has a very calm disposition, and he doesn’t get too high or too low. That’s been his career.
“He’s just a salty dog warrior.”
Doubtful that will be replacing Truth as Pierce’s nickname any time soon, but a few moments later, Celtics Coach Doc Rivers was calling his guy something else. “He’s always been underrated,” said Rivers. “I think he’s been underrated his whole career.
“I underrated him. Really. I told you that. When I coached in Orlando, every time he scored, I was so upset because I thought this slow, non-athletic guy — you look at him and you think, how the heck is he scoring on you?
“And then when you coach him, you realize he’s not slow. He plays at a slow pace. He’s athletic as heck, he’s stronger than most small forwards in the league, and he just surprises you with his fundamentals. He’s so fundamentally sound, he actually looks unathletic. And it’s a heck of a compliment to a player.”
“He’s a professional scorer,” he went on. “He really is. He just knows how to play basketball. I think every young kid should watch him play, because he can do it above the rim, but he chooses not to. He’s just so fundamentally sound with his footwork.
“It’s just really nice to watch.”