(This section will become a regular fixture in future issues where I would pit some of the sports personalities against each other in competition under certain criteria, fantasy or reality, and debate you, dear readers, on the outcome of each battle. Here’s our pilot match-up: The Truth versus Flash)
Boston Celtics legend Paul Pierce created a stir in the social media world last April 5 when he declared in the During a segment called “Truth Serum,” on ESPN’s NBA Countdown that he is the better player than probably the greatest Miami Heat player ever.
Co-host Michelle Beadle hit Pierce with the question, to which Pierce quickly snapped an answer, that created the stir: (transcript as also confirmed by Yahoo sports’ Jack Baer)
Beadle: Who’s the better NBA player?
Pierce: That’s easy! I can say that off the bat. That’s me. If you give me Shaq, if you give me LeBron…
Jalen Rose (their third co-host of the program): They did! It’s called the Big Three.
Pierce: Yeah, we got that late. If you give me these guys earlier in my career …
Beadle: Let me ask you this. What would have been a perfect time for you, Paul? Let’s make sure we get this right.
Pierce: When I was 24 years old, if you give me Shaq. When I’m 24 or 25 you give me LeBron and Bosh, I’d be sitting on five or six championships. Easy.
Is the conclusion of the result really easy?
Lost in the midst is the criteria used in this face-off is the criteria to be used in the selection of the winner of this match-up. There were two questions asked during the debate: Who is the better player and who had the better career. Let’s use both criteria in settling this debate.
Key career achievements and stats: 19 seasons played, 1-time NBA Champion, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 1-time NBA three point shootout champion, 8th all-time in total three point shots made, 9th all-time in total freethrows made, 15th in all-time scoring list, 20th all-time in total steals, 34th all-time in total defensive rebounds.
Key career highlights:
A young Pierce engineered what would become the greatest fourth quarter playoff comeback in NBA history, a 21-point reversal against the New Jersey Nets during Game 3 of the 2002 NBA Eastern Conference finals. (This record was tied by the Los Angeles Clippers during Game 1 of the first round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies) Pierce finished the game with 28 points, including 19 points in the fourth canto, where the Celtics outscored the Nets 41-16 and win the game 94-90.
Pierce also dueled with Lebron James in a shootout to score the second most Game 7 points in Celtics history as the Celtics edged the Cavaliers, 97-92, to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals of the 2008 NBA Playoffs. Pierce finished with 41 points, five assists and four rebounds while shooting 13-for-23 from the floor, four of six from threes and 11 of 12 free throws. His heroics include a late dive to secure Celtics’ possession of the ball and preserve the lead.
He came back to the court, after being wheelchaired out of it due to injury, in Game 1 in the 2008 NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers to spark a Celtics uprising with 15 points in the third quarter en route to a 98–88 victory. Pierce drilled two three-pointers in his return to help Boston build a four-point lead heading into the final frame. The Truth finished the game with 22 points on 7-of-10 shooting.
During the 2003 playoffs opening round, Pierce led the Celtics to a six-game upset over third-seeded Indiana Pacers. In Game 4, Boston trailed by 12 at the break but Pierce broke loose in the second half, Pierce dropped 32 to spark a Celtics uprising. Pierce finished the game with 37 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists in the game that included the trash talk exchange with Al Harrington where he ended the conversation with a bucket.
He was at it even when he left Boston. His fans could not forget his “That’s why they brought me here” and “I called game” speeches.
The first one was for frustrating the Toronto Raptors in two successive years.
He blocked Kyle Lowry’s potential game winning basket in Game 7 of the 2014 Playoffs to help the sixth seed Brooklyn Nets pull off the first round playoff upset over the third seeded Raptors.
The next year, he was the veteran leader of the fifth sedeed Washington Wizards who were up 3-0 with Game 4 at home for a chance to close the series. Pierce declared he doesn’t want to deal with customs, in relation to his want to avoid a trip to Canada for Game 5, and went on to score three triples in the third quarter and secured a 125-94 rout. Then Raptor guard Grieves Vazquez opined that the Raptors lacked a Paul Pierce in their failure to advance deep in the playoffs.
During Game 3 of the Wizards’ next series against Atlanta, Washington, which was missing John Wall, had to call on Paul Pierce to bail them out in the dying seconds. He indeed got the last shot and promptly sank a bank shot from the left elbow for a game-winner. When ask about calling bank on his shot, the retorted “I called game”.
Key career achievements and stats: 16 seasons played, 3-time NBA Champion, 1-time NBA Finals MVP, 1-time NBA season scoring champion, 121st all-time in total blocks (2nd among guards), 29th in all-time scoring list.
Key career highlights:
A young Wade willed the Miami Heat to a championship clinching Game 6 in the 2006 Finals against Dallas Mavericks. He converted 10-of-18 from the field and 16-of-21 free throws in securing the championship for the Heat, 95-92. He literally carried the team on his back as his partner, O’ Neal, managed to chip in just nine points.
He earlier saved Miami’s slipping chances in Game 3. The Mavericks were up 2-0 and had an 89-76 lead with 6:34 to go in the fourth to look good in closing the series. Wade went to work from there and towed the Heat to a 98-96 win to avoid the 0-3 hole. He ended the match with 42 points.
Wade helped the Heat overcame a 3-2 series deficit to beat the Spurs during the 2013 Championships. He poured 23 points with 10 rebounds in Game 7 which the Heat pocketed with a 95-88 win.
Wade scored 10 of 23 points in the final quarter during the first round of the 2016 NBA playoffs to help the Heat stave off elimination with a 97-90 win against the Charlotte Hornets. The win sends the series back to Miami for Game 7 where they routed the Hornets, 106-73, to advance to the next round.
Wade was at the forefront of the U.S. men’s basketball team gold medal haul in the 2008 Olympics. He led the Americans in scoring throughout the tournament that include a game-high 27 points against Spain in the championship game.
The Arguments and the Winner
Using the “who’s had the better career” criterion, I would say Wade would be the winner.
In my book, titles won, deep playoff appearances, total playoff appearances, and longevity are higher determining factors on how good a player’s career is. Awards won and career stats piled in relation to other legends would be secondary.
Three to one championships, regardless of who his “supporting casts” were, should end arguments on who had the better career debate. Wade won one of his championships with Shaquille O’neal and the other two with James and Chris Bosh. Pierce won his during the Kevin Garnett/Ray Allen/Rajon Rondo era.
Wade appeared in 12 total playoffs, he advanced 8 times advanced conference semis, 5 times to conference finals, and 4 times to NBA finals, making him 3-1 in the championship round.
Pierce made the playoffs 14 times, advanced 9 times to conference semis, 4 times advanced to conference finals, 2 times advanced to NBA finals, making him 1-1 in the championship round.
Using the “who’s the better player” criterion, Pierce have a legit case.
Pierce is one of the most complete scorers in NBA history as he can hit shots almost from anywhere in the court, using various kinds of shots. He is also one of the deadliest shotmakers during crunch time.
On the other hand, one could argue that Wade could easily be the third best shooting guard in NBA history. He is also, probably the second best shotblocking guard in the league’s history.
Further, Pierce’s impact was felt more by the teams he played for than Wade.
This could be highlighted when we consider how he made his presence felt even when he was traded out of his comfort zone in Boston. He was still a crucial piece in the playoffs when he was in Brooklyn and in Washington, his final productive years.
Notice how he affected the Nets and Wizards in his lone seasons with them
He was a critical piece in both their playoff runs and how they advanced. His Washington season became an outlier during the John Wall/Bradley Beal era as they registered a record. Their 4-0 pounding of the Raptors was the first sweep of an opponent for a seven game series in franchise history.
Meanwhile, Wade was nowhere near his Miami self when he went to Chicago and Cleveland.
I’m giving Pierce the nod on the slightest margins in this criterion due to his clutch performance and overall impact on the team.
Overall, I would take Wade as the winner of this match-up by a narrow margin, mainly because of the two more titles he won although with a presumably better lineup because of O’neal and James.
Does Paul have a case?
Pierce’s argument over his statements is that he is using fantasy in the comparison. “If he had Shaq.” “If he had Lebron.”
It is something that we all could just imagine given the vastly unknown possibilities of outcomes due to various factors like team chemistry, team dynamics, coach, etc.
Well, when using fantasy in arguments, one will always have a case. The outcome, however, will also always be debatable because of the same fantasy considerations.
By: ARMANDO BOLISLIS