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So can we put to rest the debate of which member of the Big Three is most important? After an embarrassing 108-88 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on national television, the Celtics look to be no match for the Cavs with or without Paul Pierce, but one thing’s for certain: the Celtics cannot beat the Cavs in a seven-game series without Pierce. Not this year. Not at all.
Last year, the Celtics took the Eastern Conference Champion Magic to seven games in the second round of the playoffs without Kevin Garnett (and they really should have won that series too). Without Ray Allen, this team has never seemed to have too much of a problem, though it’s hard to tell since he hasn’t missed many games in his Celtics career. I don’t want to think about the Celtics without Rajon Rondo (who I think is more valuable than any Big Three member — that’s another story for another day)…so let’s just cut to the chase: the Celtics are significantly worse without Paul Pierce.
This season without Pierce, the Celts are 5-4 in nine games. That’s a pretty mediocre record, but it’s a winning record so you may think that I have just contradicted myself. Ha! On the contrary, I would argue that just one of those wins, that memorable 86-77 win on Christmas Day over the Magic, was a quality win over a really good team.
Take a look at the other eight games without the captain:
Not very impressive, right?
But, they can try. The team can try to replace Pierce’s offense by turning Ray Allen into a slasher. While Ray is still capable of carrying some sort of scoring load, he can’t replicate Pierce’s toughness. The Truth will head to the hoop with no regard for who’s blocking the lane. It’s that fearlessness that earned him league-wide respect.
Ray Allen isn’t as rugged as Pierce is, so while he’s strong defending one-on-one, they really need Pierce to be guarding the forwards. Ray Allen, Tony Allen, Marquis Daniels, et al have no business defending bigger small forwards.
This is why the Celtics missed Pierce against the Cavs. Pierce does a solid job at making LeBron adjust his shot, and he’s not afraid to play aggressive defense against the League MVP. He will put his body on the line to help disrupt LeBron’s game. Without Pierce, LeBron can run wild, and he did just that Thursday night. Without Pierce guarding him, LeBron lit up the Celtics with 36 points, seven rebounds, and nine assists.
As long as the Celtics have a healthy Pierce, and for that matter a healthy Big Three and Rondo, they have a chance to compete in the Eastern Conference. But, just a chance. They can probably get through the first round again, and they may be able to sneak by the Hawks or Magic in the playoffs, but when push comes to shove, can the Celtics get by the Cavs and then the Lakers?
Well, if they can figure out how to hold second half leads, then yes. Thursday night against the Cavs, the Celtics had a lead at the half, but everyone in the arena, including Doc Rivers and Kevin Garnett, and everyone watching at home had to know they would blow the lead and not win the game. Well, that happened again, and if that’s not corrected soon, don’t expect the Celtics to be playing in June.