The young buck vs. the old guard. It’s Paul Pierce vs. Paul George, two of the best the Eastern Conference can offer at handling the ball and his team, a reputation given for years of experience for Pierce and three eye-opening months for George.
As we near All-Star weekend in Houston, site of George’s first All-Star honor — and after a 7-0 week for Boston after missing Rajon Rondo, a streak largely attributed to Pierce — it’s the perfect time to check out who you’d want on your squad more. There’s no wrong answer here, really, because both are playing as well as they ever have. So, point blank: who ya got? We argue, you decide.
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In debating the merits of Eastern Conference small forwards, the deciding factor is how they match up with No. 6 on the Heat. The road to the Finals goes through the best player in the world, as he plays arguably the best basketball of his career. Knocking off Miami will require a superstar performance from the man guarding LeBron James. While no one will outplay him for an entire seven-game series, the head-to-head matchup can’t be a landslide. Despite being 13 years older than Paul George, Paul Pierce is still the better player because of his proven track record against James.
George has had a breakout season as he made the jump from role player to All-Star. His length, athleticism and playmaking abilities create headaches for opposing defenses. His sharp shooting has landed him a spot in the three-point contest at All-Star weekend just a year after being in the dunk contest. He is well on his way to being a household name and perennial All-Star for the rest of the decade.
But don’t forget that Pierce has been doing the same things since the turn of the millennium. Ok, maybe not the jumping parts. Despite having the third-worst shooting season of his career, Pierce has taken his game to a higher level since Rajon Rondo’s season-ending ACL tear. In the eight games since the injury, Pierce has been the focal point of Boston’s offense going for 18.1 ppg, 9.9 rpg and 7.4 apg.
George will find himself on the highlight reels more often, but Pierce will still make the bigger plays. As seen by his game-tying three-pointer to force a third overtime against the Nuggets on Sunday, Pierce’s reputation as one of the league’s best crunch time scorers is still deserved. Sure, he isn’t as consistent as he once was, his case of butterfingers against the Knicks last month among the most notable, but George doesn’t have the same pedigree as Pierce in the clutch. Quick, try to name one big shot that George has hit in his two-and-a-half season career. *Crickets*
Pierce’s experience is the main reason why he is still the superior player. We know what Pierce can do with his old-man game of pump fakes, pull-up jumpers and pressure shots. For all his skills, George is still very much an unproven commodity. Could he develop into a LeBron stopper, while being a 25 points a night scorer? Yes. But he isn’t that yet. We still don’t even know how Granger will perform when Danny Granger returns.
It is easy to simply proclaim that the younger, more athletic and exciting player is better than the wily veteran. Reality just doesn’t match that argument. A statistical comparison is essentially a wash so it boils down to playing against James. This is where Pierce clearly wins the debate.
He has been a thorn in James’ side since he entered the league. The animosity goes back to 2004 when Pierce spit at the Cavs bench during a preseason game. The 2008 playoff duel saw Pierce play James as close as anyone. In 2010, Pierce and the Celtics benefitted from James’ phantom elbow injury. While James has knocked the Celtics out of the playoffs the past two seasons, you can bet he would be more concerned about Pierce than George in the playoffs.
— PAUL PALLADINO