What may very well be the highlight of the season for many Celtics fans arrives on Sunday afternoon, when Paul Pierce and the Washington Wizards make their only appearance of the season at the TD Garden.
The visit from Pierce will be his third trip to Boston as a member of the opposition in the last two years, and his first one without long-time friend and teammate Kevin Garnett at his side. Garnett remains in Brooklyn, playing out the final-year of his contract, while the Nets opted to cut their luxury tax bill and let Pierce walk away from the franchise last summer as a free agent.
The Wizards happily scooped up Pierce on a two-year deal this summer, which left many local fans feeling glum for the Celtics legend. After 15 years in green, Pierce would have to start over once again with a new franchise without Garnett? It was difficult not to feel for the guy, who had clearly never wanted to leave Boston in the first place.
While seeing Pierce wear a Wizards uniform will always look weird to Bostonians, Celtics fans should not pity Pierce in his new home. In fact, they should be delighted for him, since Washington is a great fit for the 37-year-old at this stage of his career.
Pierce is currently averaging 12.5 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists over 26.4 minutes per game for his new team. The most important number in that stat column is the minutes, which are a career low for Pierce. Throughout his first 16 years in the NBA, whether it was Boston or Brooklyn, a heavy onus had always fallen on Pierce, especially on the offensive end of the floor, and the same can be said for his minutes.
Now, for the first time in his career, Pierce has the luxury of picking his spots and fading into the background most nights. He’s still a starter, but with players like John Wall, Bradley Beal, Marcin Gortat and co. playing alongside him, the defensive attention isn’t solely placed on Pierce. It’s the kind of situation that Pierce was hoping to have in Brooklyn last year, but a slow start and injuries sidetracked that development. In Washington, it’s become a reality and people around the league are noticing.
“[Pierce is] unbelievable,” Brad Stevens said at practice yesterday. “I’m very happy for him from afar to be on the team that he’s on. He has fit in well with that team. And I know it’s probably been hard for him because now he’s played on three teams instead of one, just two years after the trade.”
With Pierce serving as a strong veteran presence and only the fourth or fifth option in the team’s offense, Washington has flown out to a 13-5 record. Washington is also loaded with depth on the bench with veterans like Kris Humphries, Andre Miller, and Drew Gooden mixed in with athletic youngsters like Otto Porter Jr.
That collection of talent shows that the savvy Pierce picked his new destination well, staying within the friendlier confines of the wide-open Eastern Conference, where his opportunity to return to the NBA Finals this year is a very real possibility.
“I was telling Brad [Beal] on the bench,” Pierce said Friday night to reporters in Washington. “That when I look at this team from top to bottom, our depth, when guys get hurt… You see similarities to teams that have made long playoff runs and made it to the finals…This team definitely shares a lot of those qualities.”
So while Pierce’s return to the Garden on Sunday will be another emotional day for No. 34 and Celtics fans alike, don’t feel bad for the former Celtic in his new home. Instead, appreciate the opportunity to watch him play for a team with real title hopes this postseason.