For a good part of this season, Paul Pierce was just a mediocre Nets' player. The Nets knew they were getting an aging star and they weren't expecting 20 points per game from him, but they also didn't expect such poor play from the former Finals MVP. Pierce was averaging 13 points on nearly 43 percent shooting from the field and 36 percent shooting from beyond the arc up until the All-Star break.
The Nets were struggling and so was Pierce. He clearly wasn't playing well in Jason Kidd's system. After an injury, Pierce came off the bench, where he did play well but the rotation had no chance of being sustained.
And then Brook Lopez went down. Enter Paul Pierce, small-ball power forward. Stars such as LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Kevin Durant play the four at times and have great success spreading the floor out for their team. So why not a former superstar in Pierce? Kidd rolled with the lineup, and it has paid its dividends.
Since Lopez went down, the Nets are 25-14, and have went from a mess of overpaid veterans to a playoff team steadily rising in the standings. As of Wednesday morning, the Nets are in fifth place and less than three games back of the Atlantic Division leaders, the Toronto Raptors. Everybody has chipped in at times to help the Nets reel off two winning streaks of five in January and keep a consistent effort up through March. Although, it has been Pierce who has been the key to the Nets success over this last stretch.
Despite being a mismatch on offense, Pierce is thought to be a liability on defense. Pierce is only 6'7", well below the height of a standard power forward. Pierce doesn't make life easier for the bigger opposition, though. See Trevor Booker on this play get bullied out of the post by Pierce.
Pierce doesn't let a big man like Booker get in position down low. Rather, he forces Booker to start about 15 feet out. Pierce also gets into a great defensive stance that forces Booker to go to the middle of the floor, where he has several Nets waiting to help him. Pierce's 14 years as a small forward has prepared him to take on big men outside of the post. He doesn't allow bigger, stronger players to get around him off the dribble due to his great footwork.
Pierce does have a defensive rating of 106 this season, tied for the second worst defensive rating of his career. If one only looks at the last 12 games, though, one would see that Pierce has a stellar defensive rating of 91.3. The Nets have been nine-and-three in this recent stretch and Pierce has been a big part of it.
The Nets are playing a risky game by starting Pierce at power forward. If teams exploit that matchup and Pierce can't handle a dominant four man, than the Nets will have to abandon that strategy. But Pierce has shown no signs of struggle while playing a new position. I broke down how well he played on Carlos Boozer in the Nets fine win over the Chicago Bulls a few weeks back, and Pierce has kept up his great post play. Pierce isn't making life difficult for the Nets on the defensive end; instead he is improving the team's on-ball defense.
There is no doubting that Paul Pierce has an interesting skill set. He plays in a very nonchalant manner, and doesn't seem fazed by the defense. This recent stretch has seen Pierce get hot from beyond the arc once again. Early in the season, it seemed that Pierce was very flat on his jumper and forcing his shots up, and not getting into a flow when pulling up.
That is not the case now. Pierce is shooting 45% from the three-point line since February 23. His shooting has opened up the floor for the Nets even more than what was expected. Jason Kidd can have an array of players take the ball to the hoop or post up and still have three wing players waiting for a pass back out.
In this clip, Channing Frye must help out on the driving Joe Johnson, giving Pierce room beyond the arc. Johnson recognizes that he doesn't have much room to operate with and kicks the ball back out to Pierce. Pierce, in his lackadaisical style, calmly gets his feet set as if he has all day to take this shot even though Frye's near-seven foot frame is closing out on him. Pierce ends up getting his shot off easily. He simply doesn't need that much time to get the ball out of his hands, and his recent experience of dealing with bigger defenders has forced him to adapt to taking shots over longer arms.
In this set it could be thought of Johnson playing the power forward-he's the one posting up-and Pierce playing the wing, waiting for a shot. This shows Pierce's fine play at the four opening up the Nets' offense. The Nets can work several guys out of the post while keeping the floor balanced, something they might not have been able to do with two bigs starting.
Pierce has really changed as the season has progressed. He has went from a frustrated Celtic, who happens to be playing in Brooklyn, to a Brooklyn Net. He has embraced this team and is starting to realize how much of a threat this team could be to make some noise in the postseason. Last Monday, the Nets Atlantic Division title hopes were on the line against the Raptors. Pierce turned in a vintage Paul Pierce fourth quarter, scoring 10 of his 15 points in the fourth and pumping up the crowd by glaring out towards it after almost every made basket.
Besides him buying into the Nets' system, his aggression has finally returned to the level it once was.
In the first clip, Pierce has Shane Battier defending him. Battier does matchup with some power forwards based on matchups, but not in this case. Pierce is a hybrid four, and Battier isn't used to defending this type of forward. Battier cheats a little too much on Deron Williams' drive and turns his head. Pierce could have beat him way before Battier got in position, but pauses and slows it down, just how he likes it.
Either way, he beats Battier to the paint, but Chris Bosh steps in. Pierce isn't afraid of the contact and goes right up with the ball. It's an easy finish.
Look at the difference between the prior play and the second one. Pierce in this one gives a half-hearted ball fake, which the opposition always seems to bite on, and gets past his defender. John Henson does slide in to take away the shot, but Pierce can still finish at the rim or pull up for a floater. However, he turns a simple layup into a circus shot and misses badly.
Pierce has re-developed his game as of late and has become the constant scoring threat that he always was in Boston, something the Nets have welcomed in with open arms.
I've been waiting to talk about how great Paul Pierce has been since his explosion against Miami last week. It really was "The Truth" at his finest. He had everything going for him: threes, drives, defense, intensity; it was all on display in South Beach. Pierce has become the leader Brooklyn needs, especially with Kevin Garnett out. This team needs Pierce to maintain his fine play on both sides of the ball for Kidd to keep running out these hybrid lineups with four wings and a big man.
Paul Pierce always seems to turn on the switch come playoff time, and it looks like this past slate of games has been him turning that switch on and getting ready for yet another deep postseason run.