Owners can be gushers. Take, for instance, the principal check writer for the Celtics, Wyc Grousbeck. Yesterday, he went on the radio, as he is inclined to do these days because no one seems to notice there's an NBA team in town. In the course of his conversation on ESPN Radio, Grousbeck offered that Paul Pierce was one of the top five players in the game.
Hmm. Maybe that's why the Celtics can't get no pub.
Anyway, I ran into him at the game later and asked him if he really thought it was true. Yes, he said, but what he really meant to say was that Pierce, the 2005 Paul Pierce we've seen for four games now, is one of the top five. I still disagreed. He admitted he might have overrated the lad.
After last night, well, all right, Pierce is not one of the top five players in the game. He's not even one of the top 10. But what he is and what he has become may be worth even more to the team he leads. For last night, when he had the ball as the clock wound down, and the Celtics trailing by 1, Pierce did something he almost never would have done in the last few years.
He passed the ball.
And, in so doing, Ricky Davis made the game-winner. Davis was immediately swallowed up by teammates and television cameras, but the zoom lenses and the spotlight should have been on No. 34. He made the play. Davis made the shot.
"I'm so proud of Paul on that last play," coach Doc Rivers said. "The guy who makes the shot deserves a lot of the credit, but the guy who makes the pass deserves more."
It's not as if Pierce was ordered to pass. He had the option to shoot. But the Grizzlies were all over him in a paparazzi-on-Madonna swarm, forcing him to the baseline. This was a play the Celtics had been practicing this week you may have noticed they do have a need to work on late-game situations and it depended on other guys doing things besides Pierce. Davis did what he was supposed to do and Pierce found him.
"It feels great just being able to make that play," Pierce said. "I wasn't going to force up a shot over three people with the clock winding down. I trust my teammates."
"I trust my teammates." When has Pierce ever said that? He's talked about mutual trust before. And if it's really true, that says so much more.
"He's been doing it every game, every practice, every exhibition game," marveled Danny Ainge. "And he hit the two big shots before the last play [a pair of 20-footers]. He's rebounding. He's doing the little things."
He's doing just about everything. (OK, the late-game free throws need work.)
Whatever doubts we may have had about Pierce's mind-set coming into this season have been erased by his play. He's been terrific. While Rivers may occasionally go overboard in the Unsolicited Praise Department, what we're seeing on the floor is Pierce at his absolute best. He is averaging 29.8 points a game while shooting 52.2 percent. He's leading the team in rebounding at 7.8 a game. He's averaging 4.3 assists. He's playing 41.8 minutes a game.
Last night, he had team-high 29 points on 9-of-13 shooting (including 3 for 3 in the fourth quarter.) He had seven rebounds, a team high. He had three steals, a team high. And he had a team-high eight assists, the eighth being the most memorable.
"A great player making a great play," saluted Mike Fratello, the Grizzlies' coach.
The conspiracy theorists around the league, and there are many, will see this as further evidence that theCeltics are deliberately slobbering over Pierce so he will have more value when they look to unload him at the trading deadline. Ainge is anything but a rank sentimentalist, but, honestly, who are you going to realistically get of equal value, right now, the way Pierce is playing?
Last June? Sure. After what we had witnessed in Indiana, Pierce for, say, Chris Paul, would have been a no-brainer. I can still remember the Globe advertising department being told that night (the NBA draft) to wait on the Celtics' ad that was going to run in the paper the next day. One of the ads had Pierce. One did not. In the end, Pierce stayed. He appears to have reached a detente with Rivers. He's playing his you-know-what off. He's trusting his teammates.
And he's doing all this while entering the prime of his career with only two years left on his contract after this season one, if you consider that the last season is his option and for a team that has no illusions about contending for a championship. It would view making the playoffs as a successful season. You would think Pierce might want a lot more than that.
So give him his props. Give him a loud shout-out. He may not be among the top five, or even the top 10, but he's showing himself to be a pretty valuable Celtic in more ways than one.