The Truth: Clippers’ Paul Pierce is washed


There isn’t moment in life that a line from “The Dark Knight” can’t relate to. For example, Harvey Dent’s (or Two-Face to those unfamiliar with the DC universe) infamous “Die and be a hero, or live long enough to see yourself become a villain.”

While heroes and villains exist in the league — to the chagrin of fans who believe the NBA is now filled with tons of buddy-buddy persons — to fit this particular case, the heroes here are those who retire the game before the end, and the villains, those who allow us to witness an unnerving transformation from super to mere mortals.

Paul Pierce, one-time NBA champion, 19th all-time scorer, second all-time in points in Boston Celtics history, and multi-time All-Star, is a full-on mortal — being more Batman in “The Dark Knight Rises” up until the fight with Bane versus the caped crusader retreating to and from the evils of Joker and Two-Face in movie 2 of Christopher Nolan’s comic series — and by seasons end, we may never see The Truth return to form (think Batman post-Bane’s prison in TDKR). Because the end is near, and the undefeated Father Time has claimed another victim: Pierce is washed, as the lingo goes nowadays.

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  • Outside of opening night, there hasn’t been a select game where Pierce has imposed his will, the opening against the Sacramento Kings included “The Truth” abusing smaller guards after the pick-and-roll switch, finishing with 12 points. It was how Pierce was expected to look through the majority of the season in his “new” role as small-ball four, taking advantage of the big too slow to defend him on the perimeter or the wing too small to contain him on the block. Though an extremely small sample of one game, this is what many expected from the former Celtic despite being a year older, a susceptible to decline to due to factors out of Pierce’s control. And for a team lacking in resources to improve, Pierce seemed the perfect fit: a former player under Doc Rivers‘ tutelage, the voice in the locker room to keep things steady, and the wing to feast on Griffin/Paul/Redick’s leftovers — in theory, the fit was perfect, but the reality was the union was a day late and dollar short (a huge marking on Rivers’ GM resume will always be selecting Spencer Hawes over Pierce last summer). But since then, Pierce has cleared the 10 point mark just once — in a loss to Dallas — and has scored less than five points nine teams, including recent back-to-back performances with 0 points in 21 combined minutes (0-for-4 from the field).

    The numbers compose the perfect painting to Father Time’s impact on Pierce. A career-low 4.5 points per game, nearly seven points lower than his previous low of 11.5 from last season. A career-worst 30% from the field, 10 points lower than his previous low of 40% from the 2003-04 season; for those who prefer true-shooting to the traditional field-goal percentage, 44% in that regard. A career-low 23% from three, a surprising mark given Pierce has made a living from hitting from range, and made it his biggest weapon last season with the Washington Wizards; it should be mentioned how the majority of Pierce’s attempts are spot-up 3s, so maybe there’s room for regression to the norm but right now he’s one of the worst on the team.

    The select few meeting the same metrics as Pierce this season, that being playing in at least 20 minutes per game, having a 44 TS% or lower, and a PER lower than 7? Only Minnesota’s Tayshaun Prince, another old guy facing the effects of living, and Houston’s Corey Brewer — not a good bunch at all.

    Defensively, he’s become a sieve, hurting the Clippers’ effectiveness on that side of the ball. Per NBA Stats, whenever Pierce is on the floor, the Clippers have a defensive rating of 106.8 in comparison to 100.6 when on the floor. The mind is still there when it comes to knowing where to be on that end but the body just doesn’t allow for the timely movement needed to keep up with wings on the perimeter, the growing number of four’s who can “stretch the floor” to some capacity, and to compete on the glass (this may be the easiest for Pierce to fix as effort is somewhat an issue here).

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    Combining the eye test and the experience has gone from excitement, as a veteran Pierce could give this Clippers team the sparks it needed outside of Paul-Griffin-Redick-Jordan from time to time (and namely in the playoffs) to a harrowing view that’d ask fro Lance Stephenson or Wes Johnson to be on the floor in his place instead. In fact, Pierce is quite lucky there’s an even worse old guy in Los Angeles to steal the spotlight away from his old-man ails, that guy being the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. Talent wise, both future Hall of Famer’s — and their fans — could make the case something is left in the tank. But the body doesn’t agree with such, and luckily for the Clippers, Pierce has long accepted his declining state years ago while Bryant’s attempting to ask his body to meet his will, and through the first 1/16th of the season, we’ve seen such to be a farce. And to the pain of older NBA fans, those two aren’t alone. Kevin Garnett is far more a mentor and player-coach than feasible player, Jamal Crawford, random 37-point game aside, has been bad this season too, Vince Carter can rarely escape a Memphis bench that longs for a capable three-point shooting wing, while the likes of Dirk Nowitzi, Tim Duncan, and Manu Ginobili have retained a resemblance to enjoyable brand of basketball but Father Time will hit them too.

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    Is there any hope Pierce’s tank isn’t completely empty? Optimism isn’t in his favor but the Clippers definitely hope so, because without Pierce being at least playable come the playoffs, Rivers will have to hinge his hopes on a group of uncertain’s (Stephenson, Rivers, Johnson, Mbah a Moute, and maybe a random wing possibly acquired at the trade deadline) to help lift this Clippers team into title contention. It’s a road that may include defeating the Golden State Warriors (GSW winning season series 2-0, including a deflating — and fairly easy — comeback in the second game) and a Oklahoma City Thunder team still carried by Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook; the Clippers’ top-4 players won’t be able to do it alone, as history shows us.

    It’s humbling in a sense, and a stark reminder that what goes up in life must come down. Maybe there’s brighter pastures ahead for Pierce, and numbers round closer to his career averages and further from as-of-now percentages, but the reality of the situation? Pierce is washed.

    A harrowing sight distance from those revealed during his prime years but at the end of the day, it’s the truth.