No doubt, Paul Pierce is one of the most beloved players in Boston Celtics history. Having spent 15 seasons with the historic franchise, Pierce had many accomplishments in Boston. Among them, an NBA championship and a Finals MVP in 2008, 10 All-Star appearances, and 5 All-NBA nods. The Truth also holds multiple records.
He finished his Celtics career as the second leading scorer in franchise history, including third in games and minutes played, and third in win shares.
Certainly, in any ranking of greatest Celtics of all time, Pierce would find himself near the top of the list. That’s quite an accomplishment, considering all the legends and Hall of Famers that have donned the green and white. Surely, Bill Russell and Larry Bird already have the first two spots secured.
After those two legends, however, who goes next? Is it Paul Pierce? Is he a lock for the third greatest Celtic ever? Did he do enough during his Celtics career to merit consideration as a top-3 all-time player of the storied franchise? Let’s explore.
As laid out earlier, Paul Pierce certainly does not lack the career and franchise accolades. The former 10th overall pick made the All-Star team in two-thirds of his Celtics career. Pierce instantly established himself as one of the most prolific and crafty scorers in the game when he entered the league in 1998. His elite scoring netted him 24,021 career total points (averaging 21.8 per night) in 1,102 games representing Bean Town. He also finished no. 1 in three-pointers, free throws, and steals.
However, as great as Pierce’s accolades are, there are quite a number of contenders for that no. 3 spot. Arguably the strongest is John Havlicek.
Havlicek, to this day, is the no. 1 scorer in franchise history, with 26,395 total points (20.8 points per game) in 16 seasons in Boston. Hondo also won eight NBA titles, including the 1974 Finals MVP, and made the All-Star team 13 times and the All-NBA team 11 times.
The late Celtics legend started out his career coming off the bench, but took on a bigger role once 11-time champ Bill Russell retired. He possessed an elite offensive game as a shooter, shot creator, and playmaker for his teammates. On the other end, Havlicek was a lock down defender and provided great energy for the Celtics with his hustle. He also provided Celtics fans with one of the iconic moments in NBA when he sealed their 1965 Eastern Conference Finals win over the Philadelphia 76ers with a series-clinching steal.
Celtics fans may also put Hall of Famers such as Dave Cowens, Kevin McHale, and Bob Cousy above Paul Pierce on the all-time Celtics list.
Cowens is a two-time champion and a league MVP in 1972-73. He also made eight All-Stars and three All-NBA selections in his career. An undersized 6-foot-9 center, he anchored Boston’s front court against the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar with his sheer heart and determination on the court. He netted 17.6 points and 13.6 rebounds through 10 seasons in Bean Town.
McHale, meanwhile, finished his 13-year career, all with the Celtics, with three NBA championships, seven All-Star appearances, and six All-Defensive team nods. The no. 3 overall pick in 1980, McHale is regarded as one of the greatest low post players in NBA history. McHale was also known for his team-first mentality. The 6-foot-10 power forward did not mind coming off the bench for the Celtics through parts of his career. For his career, he averaged 17.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 1.7 blocks in 971 career games with Boston.
Finally, Cousy was the point guard that helped steer the Celtics to six NBA championships alongside Bill Russell. A 13-time All-Star and the 1956-57 MVP, Cousy became one of the premier point guards in the NBA. His elite handles and playmaking ignited the Celtics offense, especially on the fast break. Cousy ended his career with averages of 18.4 points, 5.2 rebounds, and 7.5 assists.
Looking at career accomplishments of the four aforementioned – Havlicek, Cowens, McHale, and Cousy – all of them are multiple time champions. Paul Pierce, meanwhile, won just one NBA championship for Boston.
Perhaps, the strongest argument for Pierce’s lone championship contribution would be the era he played in. The likes of Havlicek, Cousy, and Cowens played in an NBA with way less teams and competition, thus it’s easier to win during that era. Pierce, meanwhile, played in a league with 30 teams and more elite players. However, I don’t think this isn’t enough to put Pierce over the top.
Another factor that could go against Pierce is that Boston didn’t thrive too well with him as the main man. The Celtics struggled for the most part through the early to mid-2000’s with Pierce leading the way.
They did make the conference finals in 2001-02, and the playoffs for four straight years from 2002 to 2005, but none of those teams had legitimate shots of winning the NBA title. Pierce may have averaged 25 points a night through that stretch. However, the Celtics didn’t find too much success through that era until they landed Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in the summer of 2007.
To conclude, Paul Pierce is not of the top three Celtics of all time. I would give the nod to John Havlicek with that no. 3 spot, and even place Kevin McHale over him. Nonetheless, The Truth certainly warrants consideration as a top-5 Celtic of all time, with top-7 as his floor. Honestly, not a bad place to be at considering Boston’s rich history.