Thursday, January 08, 2009

Nique/Bird>Pierce/Lebron

So one of the readers wrote in yesterday bringing up the absurd notion that Paul Pierce is a better player than Lebron James. The reader cited last year's Celtics-Cavs game 7 and the "battle" between Lebron and Pierce. For those who missed it Lebron had 48, Pierce had 44 but the Celtics prevailed. The reason the Celtics won was that they had a better team and Lebron ran out of gas. Lebron proclaimed it a classic. I can remember 30 more exciting games in the last 16 years. The reader said that because Pierce's team won he was the superior player. I disagree.

Pierce played with Kevin Garnett who is a first ballot hall of famer despite his questionability in the clutch. And yes I just made that up. KG sucks in the clutch. No matter what Simmons says or one shot he made in Atlanta, he chokes. He's the Peyton manning of the NBA. But he's better than the second best player on the Cavs then Boobie Gibson. Even now KG is better than anyone on the Cavs that doesn't wear # 23. Pierce also played with borderline hall of famer Ray Allen, and up and comer Rajon Rondo. His team was better and even though Lebron scored 4 more points he won the game. If all other things are equal ( I.E The Cavs and Celts as a team both score 60 pts) Lebron's team would have won by 4.

But the bigger issue IMHO is anyone who realistically compared Lebron/Pierce to Bird/Nique. Bird/Nique literally decided the fate of that game and who went to the NBA finals. Into the final minute. Nique and Bird both looked fate in the eye and Nique blinked first. Bird scored 20 points in the final quarter alone. Neither Pierce nor Lebron came close to that. The teams were tied with 5:57 left when Bird scored 11 points after that. Dominique purposely missed a free throw with a second left to try to tip it in and win...

Dominique scored 47 points on 23 shots. Dominique Wilkins is never remember properly for the brillant scorer he was. He didn't do a whole lot of rebounding or defending, but only Jordan scored better than Wilkins in his prime. He's another one of those guys who would average 50 a game with the new hand check rules. The reason Dominique isn't celebrated is the inescapable fact that he never won a championship and was incredibly one dimensional. What's missing if you only look at those two factors was a brillant scorer, who consistently stepped his game up in the biggest spots against the best opponents. He saved his best games for when he got to play Jordan or Bird. Even the Pistons and Isiah got a few 50 point games. Wilkins never folded in the clutch, he just wasn't on good enough teams to compensate for his many deficiencies as a superstar. Still without a doubt one of the 50 best players of all time. In fact I'd love to figure out where Nique sits among the best pure scorers of all time. Jordan would be first. 1984-85 Bernard King would be second. Kobe third, and who else... That's a whole column in and of itself.

But the real story of Bird/Wilkins 88 was Larry Bird. Larry always stepped up in big situations. He was an invincible man who only got better as it mattered most. Larry Bird took over this game. Going into the last 5 minutes of the game he had 23 pts. 15 heading into the 4th. Then he hit backbreaker after backbreaker until with 1:57 he nailed a killer 3 over Nique himself. The game remained close until the final seconds but it remained close with the Celtics ahead everytime. Larry and Nique stared down fate and greatness and a trip to the finals. And Larry Bird didn't blink. That's why he's revered. Because guys like him and Jordan and Magic, and even Tim Duncan always came through when it counted. You just expected it after awhile. And more importantly so did the other team. That's what makes someone a crunch time killer. When Lebron gets the ball with less than 10 seconds down one now... You expect him to make the play but you don't know it's gonna happen. Bird made you know. That's what made Bird an all time great and that's what made 1988 better than 2008.

S

5 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:11 PM

    That is absurd to think that Pierce is a better player than Lebron. Just look at the season before the Celtics won the championship...the worst team in the NBA, with who on their team??? Oh yeah Pierce.

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  2. One thing I've noticed when comparing games from the 80s to those now is that the players seemed more fundamentally sound back then. Players would actually shoot mid range jumpers and knock them down consistently. Offenses relied more on ball movement as opposed to just letting their best player try to win a 1v1 battle. In today's game everyone it seems that all players care about are dunks and 3 pointers. After all, that is all they show on Sportscenter right?

    I really wish there were more pure shooters in the game. Guys like Larry Bird, Chris Mullin, Mark Price, Jeff Hornacek and Reggie Miller in his early days who made their living knocking down 18 footers.

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  3. Anonymous6:15 PM

    Brian, blame the GREAT Michael Jordan. He started a trend that others simply cannot successfully follow as well.

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  4. Adrian10:00 PM

    Your examples are really good but it's not like Bird's Celtics weren't a good team.

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  5. Anonymous12:06 AM

    I don't dispute that LeBron is clutch, but to say he takes a few steps en route to the basket is to make an understatement of epic proportions.

    He might be an athlete, but even Jordan couldn't get from beyond the three point line to a landing spot next to the basket in two steps (maybe three with a head of steam). I see 'Bron regularly get 4+ steps and after seeing the replays of the Cleveland-Washington refereeing debauchery, I can't help but wonder if LeBron will have to be discounted for all the steps he's allowed to take. One other thing stands out to me: I distinctly remember him basically pantsing Paul Pierce on a loose ball while a foul was called on the CELTICS in either Game 6 or Game 7. It drove me nuts.

    I think that the "greats" of our decade must have their stats discounted by at least 5% to account for the gross favoritism granted to superstars over their lesser known peers, a disparity that wasn't this significant in footage I've seen from other eras (although I remain open because my sports scholarship of earlier eras are admittedly limited to the playoff classics reruns shown on TV, and not the entire season).

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