OK, don’t get me wrong when I say that I never expected Celtics’ forward Paul Pierce to win the 3-point shootout Saturday night. Honestly I didn’t expect him to make it out of the first round, but Pierce overcame the odds and came out with the trophy.
Pierce is the first Celtics player to win since Larry Bird won the first three 3-point shootouts to start off the All-Star weekend tradition. It was Pierce’s second appearance in the contest. His last appearance was in 2002, when Peja Stojaković won his first in what would be back-to-back titles. Pierce hit only eight shots in 2002 and failed to get out of the first round, but since then he has been wanting to get back, and he proved to be the best shooter on the court Saturday night.
Pierce is the first player to start off the shootout. Most analysts (and myself) have written him off by now already, but he hit 17 threes and looked fairly well. What most Celtics fans typically see with Pierce (especially this season) is a shot that takes a long time to release and is usually wide open. He altered his approach for this contest a little bit and shot much faster than he normally would in a regulation game and in a way that helped him find a little grove and he was able to move on to the second round.
The favorite to win the competition, Chauncey Billups, was up next and he made 17 shots as well. He had a couple of streaks going, especially on the first rack, but his inconsistency kept him from topping Pierce.
Rookie sensation Stephen Curry was up next and he knocked down 18 shots and made each one look easier than the first. He looked extremely comfortable shooting the ball, even when he kept a dead-eye on the rim throughout most of the racks.
Channing Frye was up next and he performed well but was not able to keep up with the first three players. The 6-11 big man out of Phoenix was never a big three-point shooter in his career until this season and he has made it known to the rest of the league that he can knock down the outside shot. He finished with 15 made shots.
New York Knick Danilo Gallinari was up next and he also struggled as he ended up with 15 shots made. I thought he was going to do much better than he did, but like the announcers said: “he is much better during games when he is coming off screens and pulling off the shot.” I guess they were right as he was unable to get out of the first round in his first career appearance.
The defending champion from Miami Daequan Cook was up next and he struggled as well and only finished with 15 shots made. He was a surprise to win last year and it really showed this time around that maybe he got on one of those hot streaks last year to pull off the upset. I personally thought he was a much better three-point shooter, but so far this season he is only shooting 31.7% from beyond the arc.
Pierce started off the round yet again and this time he was even more impressive than his first round. He finished with 20 shots made, including all five money balls (worth two points apiece). His 20 points in the last round is tied with Tim Legler’s identical score from 1996 for sixth all-time.
Billups went next and was very inconsistent as he was only able to knock down 14 three-pointers and was quickly eliminated. He had been the favorite to win because he can get on such a hot streak and while he showed glimpses of strong shooting, he also showed that he can have cold streaks as well.
Curry went next and right of the bat it looked like he was going to easily take the trophy. He hit four of five shots on the first rack and then three of five on the second, but then he fell apart. He ended up finishing with a strong 17, but by the way he started, it looked like he was going to easily take the competition. Like the announcers said, “he is going to win many of these competitions in his life,” and that will most likely be true. He was one of the best long distance shooters coming out of Davidson last year. He hasn’t let up in his rookie season either, as he is currently ranked ninth in the league with a percentage of 43.4% from downtown, which is a very impressive number for a first-year player.
Although Curry did give Pierce a run for his money, the experienced Celtic came out on top with his ever-so-clutch shooting. Pierce’s clutch shooting normally is a game-changer during regular/post-season games, but on Saturday night it gave him his first 3-Point Shootout trophy to put next to the rest of his awards.
Pierce said after the competition that he was truly honored to be invited and that he had been waiting since 2002 to redeem himself.
“I take pride in competition,” Pierce said. “Like I said, back in ’02, when I didn’t do well in it and the way I’ve been practicing and shooting well this year, I was like, ‘This is a great opportunity for me to come out here and redeem myself.’
“It was all set up. It was set up and I had a chance to do it again and that’s all I needed. All I needed was another chance. I didn’t get invited for seven years. Seven, eight years, I never got invited again and this was the opportunity where I got invited, and I took advantage of it this time.”
Now, I may regret saying that I didn’t expect Pierce to win, and I am honestly glad that he proved me (among many others) very wrong. The man is shooting a career-best 44.8% from beyond the arc this season, and that is only the third time in his career that he has been over the 40% mark from downtown.
I am already looking forward to him defending his title next year. Hopefully Curry’s inexperience will show again, so maybe Pierce can win again. Until next year.