When John Wall dashed off the court after torching LeBron James and the Cavs for 28 points in a convincing 91-78 Washington Wizards win on Friday night, Paul Pierce was the first person to greet him once the buzzer sounded. The 17-year NBA vet, NBA champion and now legendary motivator probably hit the locker room and dropped some jewels on a Wizards squad that is anchored by two baby-ballers in the 24-year-old Wall and third-year guard Bradley Beal.
Pierce sort of smacked the top of Wall’s dome in appreciation of the developing player’s performance and his resilience. Two days after missing 12-of-17 shots in a loss to Dallas and funking it up in crunch time, Wall’s third quarter come-up (17 points on 7-of-9 shooting) against LeBron was telling.
Since leaving Kentucky’s one-and-done factory in 2010, Wall has been under a magnifying glass. After being drafted, he was anointed the savior of the Wizards’ franchise. He’s gotten better each season (maybe not at the pace fans and media want) and this year he’s averaging a career-high 19.5 points and 9.1 assists per game. It’s no coincidence that Wall’s maturity and his ability to grasp the team concept and embrace a dogged consistency that’s needed to be an NBA superstar, coincides with Pierce’s arrival. Pierce has been where Wall is trying to go. He’s been a top draft pick (1998) and joined the Celtics with some of the same pressures Wall has endured in Washington. Pierce's reign as a Celtics legend started at the bottom of the standings with Rick Pitino and rose to the top of the NBA food chain with Doc Rivers.
Prior to last season’s turn up, the Wizards had won 29 games or less for five consecutive seasons. At 8-3, they are off to their best start in 40 years and are in second place in the Eastern Conference behind a surprising Toronto team. LBJ’s rocky return to Cleveland has definitely restructured the power flow in the East.
“Four years ago, nobody was really talking about Washington,” Pierce said. “Now, they changed the culture here.”
It all starts with the Washington backcourt, which some consider the best in The League. If they’re going to take the next step and make a deep playoff run, both of these young guns have to stay on some game elevation shit.
The low points have to make them stronger for the future and they must continue to feed the guys around them and make sure they are all in.
If Wall’ s lightning–quick game was lacking that killer’s edge and a deeper understanding of what his talents truly meant. If he was craving an improved mental toughness; there’s no better O.G. and teacher than Pierce. He’s the ultimate dispenser of the late-game dagger. Pauly P is deadly on the elbows and to this day whether on the NBA hardwood or a local tournament, he still gives cats half his age the business. He’s really been through it all.
If 50 Cent can rise to fame on the narrative of being shot nine times, Pierce’s street cred is as official as any NBA player. Aside from all of the trash-talking on the court, Pierce has faced life and death situations that extend beyond the rock. His appreciation for basketball was heightened in September of 2000 when he was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back and had a bottle smashed over his head while at the Buzz Club, a late night dance club in the Boston Theater District. He had to undergo lung surgery to repair the damage.
Pierce almost lost his life and livelihood on the mean streets of Boston, but we all know how that story turned out. He was one of the fortunate ones and the incident undoubtedly fueled his drive and legendary “ice water” veins and his relentless hustle on both ends of the floor.
If Wall was looking for inspiration, then letting Trevor Ariza ride and bringing Pierce into the cipher with a manageable two-year deal in the offseason was the money move to make.
“The greatness of Paul is he knows who he is and where he’s at right now,” Wizards coach Randy Wittman said. “I think he’s already stated that this isn’t his team. He’s coming in to try to help this team move forward in a positive manner. He understands where he’s at in his career and who he is. With the players he’s got here and some of the young guys, this is a situation he’s just trying to help. That’s unique.”
Scoring buckets is cool. Pierce is 18th all-time in that trade. However, Pierce’s Championship Celtics team with KG and Ray Allen were built on the defensive principles of Rivers. It seems Pierce has brought that swag to D.C. with him as well.
“I think that he’ll be so important to that team,” Rivers told washingtontimes.com. “To Bradley and to John and to all the young guys, in the way he plays. They’ll realize all that speed and athleticism is nice —Paul has that, but he rarely uses it because he knows timing and how to play. I think that’s what the people of D.C. will love the most.”
Speaking of timing, the Cavaliers went the final nine minutes without scoring a field goal on Friday. It was Cleveland’s third-straight loss and one that puts King James under .500 more than 10 games into a season for the first time in six years.
Pierce and LeBron basically left winning situations to do some charity work. Pierce stopped off in Brooklyn for a season to try and help Prokhorov taste some playoff magic before he flies the BK coup. That wasn’t a perfect fit. This marriage between Pierce and Washington works. He’s playing just under 28 minutes a game and chipping in 12 points and 5.4 rebounds and 2.5 assists. He’s a jack of all trades, but his main role is professionalism. Pierce can chill and give you nine points in 30 minutes as he did Friday or he can give you 17 points as he has three times this season. It appears Pierce is having a lot more fun guiding his baby ballers than LeBron is trying to get all of Cleveland's new parts to smoothly coincide like a Grand Master Vic blend.
LeBron is doing a bit more losing and pouting than usual. He looks more stressed than happy to be at the crib performing for adoring fans. Everytime you flash on Pierce he’s smiling, waving a towel, encouraging a young buck or draining jumpers on fools in his backup duty. He has no intentions of letting up on the gas.
“I told people before; they’re like, ‘How many more years?’” Pierce said. “I don’t know how many more years. There is going to come a day where I wake up, my body is going to talk to me. My mind is going to say something that my body probably can’t do, and then I’ll figure it out from there. My body still feels good. My mind is in the right place. I still have the hunger, desire to get up every day and want to be in the gym, so I’ll continue to do that until that goes away.”
Artificial preservatives and financial objectives don’t figure into Pierce’s planning. At last, basketball isn't a business to him. Pierce has come full circle in his illustrious hoops journey. Listening to him speak, it’s no wonder he still kills at will.
At age 37, there’s nothing waiting for you but a heart attack if you take life too seriously and try to freeze-frame the past.
Pierce (Known in DC as "The Influence") understands that his NBA All-Star days are over, but because he possesses proper perspective on life and a realistic understanding of his limits, Pierce is able to do what guys like Allen Iverson couldn’t do. He humbled himself and is willing to play as a reserve and still be part of a winning situation and give back to the NBA community that helped him become one the game’s most lethal bucket baggers and leaders.