Bird vs. Pierce: No contest
Absence makes the heart grow fonder, except in professional sports. Something happens when greats leave the game and new stars emerge, where fans and many times analysts take a current player and place them on a pedestal just higher than a previous star, no matter how legendary his performance was in his day. That being said, your Uncle Buck wants to set something strait: Larry Bird was better than Paul Pierce.
Now some may say, "Hey UB, who would even present such a ridiculous argument?" Well Chowdahead it appears that the debate came from Celtics great player/coach/broadcaster Tommy Heinsohn, who was quoted in a Boston Herald article Wednesday as calling Pierce potentially the greatest scorer in the history of the historic franchise:
"Paul Pierce could end up being the best offensive player this team ever had," Tommy Heinsohn said, "and I've seen them all...He's beating double-teams, triple-teams. And he's added a new dimension that's making it easier: He's got them guessing. He's making the passes now. When he's reading the defense, that helps him. He can get the shots he wants instead of having to force the shots." When asked about one Larry Joe Bird: "Oh, Larry Bird was a great player, no one would ever dispute that. But this kid's going to blow by everybody. I mean, if he plays a significant number of years, he'll be right up there in career numbers. If we're talking offense, he can do this stuff every night with this ballclub."
"Are you basing it on the regular season or the playoffs?" Bird asked. "I mean, it's hard to compare guys that have never been to the finals to other players. If you gear yourself to play six months of the year, it's completely different than gearing yourself to play nine months a year. My whole focus was trying to gear myself to play nine months a year...Paul's a hell of a player. He's probably having his best year. Paul's the type of guy who can defend. He's very competitive. He can shoot. He rebounds his position, and that's key. He's one of our best in the league. I ain't taking nothing away from him...The thing is, the playoffs are what make you as a player. I mean, you can sit and talk about players all you want, but until you get in the playoffs and play for the big prize year after year..." Larry even commented on Pierce's latest run of 30+ point games: "You know, if I wanted to score 35 points a game, if I knew I was just going to play in the regular season, I would have been very capable of doing that, but it wasn't me. I had more talent around me than Paul's had, and our whole focus was winning championships."
So far there have not been any printed comments from Pierce on Bird's reaction, but until there is lets take a look at the two players and their eras to help make the decision...
Taking a look at "Larry Legend's" stats, he had a career .496 field goal percentage and averaged 24.3 points per game for his career. In his prime, from the 1981-82 season to the 1987-88 season, Bird had a field goal percentage over .500 5 times, including .527 in 1987-88, .525 in 1986-87 and .522 in 1984-85. In the seasons he dipped under .500 he missed the mark by .008 and .004. Bird averaged 29.9 points in 1987-88 and 28.7 in 1984-85. In the other years he was over 25 PPG 2 other times and below 23 PPG only once, in 1981-82 when he averaged 22.9 PPG. Bird also averaged 10 rebounds per game and 6.3 assists per game for his career. He was a 3 time NBA MVP (1984, '85, '86), a 2 time NBA Finals MVP (1984, '86) and is credited with revitalizing the league in the 80s along with Magic Johnson.
Pierce, on the other hand, has never broken the .500 mark for FG% in a season. His closest mark has been .478 so far this season, and .455 for a full season in 2004-05. Paul's PPG for a career is 23.5, while this seaon's average has been 27.1 to this point. Prior to this season's scoring outburst, Pierce averaged over 25 PPG from 2000-01 thru 2002-03. Pierce's game high also came this year with 50 points in February against Cleveland (Bird scored 60 in 1985 against Atlanta). "The Truth" has averaged 6.5 rebounds per game for a career and 3.8 assists per game.
So Pierce suppoerters in this aguement (Cameron and LT's friend Kidney) would say that Pierce has done and continues to do his scorring with a sub-par group of players around him, while Bird did his best work with a Dynasty that went to 5 NBA Finals in 7 years and took home 3 titles. This may be true, but while Pierce does his best work driving to the basket and getting to the foul line, he misses the free throws. His career FT% is .790, while Bird's stands at .886. And any Celtics fan can recall Pierce missing the 2nd free throw in game 4 of the 2002 Conference Finals that ended in a Nets win, or the numerous other pressure free throws that have bounced out. Bird was also an expert at driving to the hole and drawing the foul, but also knew to dump it off to Robert Parish or Kevin McHale if they became open. Pierce, more times than not puts up the low percentage shot, although for much of this year as his game has improved. As for Bird's comments on the playoffs making the man, Pierce did lead the C's to the biggest comeback in NBA history in that same 2002 series vs. the Nets but they lost the next 3 after that and Pierce's behavior in Game 6 of last year's playoff series against the Pacers and his no-show in Game 7 would throw that arguement to Bird without a fight.
In closing, Tommy Heinsohn may have a point calling Pierce a terriffic scorrer, maybe one of the best in the history of the club, but Bird was one of a kind, the likes of which we may never see again. As a Celtics fan UB just has to hope that Pierce continues to put up the big numbers he has this season as the team grows around him...