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11.24.2008

Kobe is Better


Somebody in Boston owes Pierce six bucks . . . especially since you can make the case that he's threatening to surpass Kobe Bryant as the NBA's pre-eminent clutch player after his NBA Finals MVP performance and a run of big fourth quarters already this season highlighted by Pierce's buzzer-beating jumper that took down then-unbeaten Atlanta.

--Marc Stein

This really is a rather amazing turnabout.

Before last year very few observers outside of Boston thought of Paul Pierce as one of the 25 best players in the NBA. Now he is routinely getting tabbed as one of the five best players in the league, giving Kobe Bryant, the presumed #1, a run for his title on any given night.

As a Celtics fan of 35 years, I find this particularly interesting.

From the time Paul Pierce entered the league until the 2002 ECFs, I was never convinced Kobe had anything on him. It wasn't until the 2005 playoffs when the Celtics lost to the Indiana Pacers and Paul Pierce imploded that I first started realizing it was time to eat crow. Then again, I hadn't really crowed so much as failed to acknowledge Kobe Bryant as the GREATEST PLAYER EVER. In fact, I wouldn't even acknowledge him as the greatest player in the game today.

Why?

He got Shaq traded, and was this close (fingers almost touching) to getting Andrew Bynum traded for Jason Kidd.

Insert your own punchline.

Beyond that, Kobe's swagger seemed almost totally dependent on Shaq. Once Shaq left, Kobe failed to impress me as much more than a guy who jacked up a lot of shots. He earned his reputation with Shaq behind him, and didn't look very tough when surrounded by lesser talent.

I never expected anyone else to buy into this. I was a Celtics fan, after all, and my anti-Kobe bias was merely the product of jealousy and sour grapes. Moreover, as good as Paul Pierce could be at times, he could also be a turnover prone, out of control whiner who drove even the most loyal Celtics fans a tad bit crazy.

And so here I stand back where I did after Pierce's rookie year, believing that not much separates Pierce from Kobe.

Only this time, I'm not standing on an island by myself. My opinion's hit the mainstream, and the stream is starting to get crowded. Paul Pierce has matured since 2005, but championships change perspectives, too.

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