- Chris Forsberg, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
BOSTON -- The compliment gets thrown in his direction fairly often and it's almost always sincere, especially when delivered by those who have observed all the greats: Paul Pierce is the best scorer in Boston Celtics history. And that's saying something considering the likes of John Havlicek and Larry Bird have worn the jersey.
But Pierce wouldn't mind someday being regarded as one of the most complete players in Celtics history. On Sunday against the Indiana Pacers, he gave the latest example of why he deserves to be in the conversation.
With Boston again playing without All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo (sprained left ankle), Pierce produced his second consecutive double-digit assist game, handing out a game-high 12 dimes. Pierce added 18 points and 10 rebounds for his seventh career triple-double in a 99-88 triumph over the Pacers at TD Garden.
"He's the chameleon," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers, a fitting description of a player who has spent his entire 13-year career in green, but found ways to adapt to those around him. "We would rather, honestly, have him in scoring mode all the time. But with this team, especially with the injuries, he's been a phenomenal utility player for us."
Pierce didn't just play the "point forward" role Sunday, he produced one of the most efficient efforts of his career. While logging nearly 37 minutes, he took only eight shots, hitting everything he put up inside of the 3-point arc.
For his career, Pierce has had only five games in which he's logged more than 35 minutes and taken only eight shots, and three of those games have come this season. Normally such a stat line would come when Pierce's shot isn't falling and he has to contribute in other areas, typically on the glass.
But Sunday, the Celtics needed a distributor, and Pierce was happy to play the role.
Pierce will never be confused with Rondo. Before Sunday's game, Pierce had only 19 career regular-season games with double-digit assists; Rondo has done that 17 times this season (and he's appeared in only 20 games).
But there was Pierce, doing his best imitation of Boston's young quarterback, heaving a perfect first-quarter lob at the rim that Shaquille O'Neal slammed through while nearly cramming Indiana's Jeff Foster through the cylinder, as well.
It was one of four first-quarter assists for Pierce, who helped Boston open an early nine-point lead and grind it out from there.
"I pride myself on trying to be a complete player," Pierce said. "Coming into the draft, I was known as a scorer. Throughout the course of my career, I worked on a lot of things on both sides of the ball. Even coming into this season, I always pride myself on being the best all-around player I can be."
And don't forget Pierce's defense. He aided the Celtics in limiting Danny Granger to 5-of-20 shooting and only 19 points, while producing his second "SportsCenter"-worthy chasedown block in as many weeks.
Truth be told, no one likes to see Rondo on the court more than Pierce. When Rondo was sidelined for four games by hamstring and foot issues earlier this season, Pierce's stats took a hit across the board, including field goal percentage (52.5 percent with Rondo; 47.7 without); 3-point percentage (44.3 percent with Rondo; 9.1 percent without) and points per game (27 with Rondo; 20.5 without).
Buckets don't come as easily for Pierce without Rondo, and he knows that's true for most of his teammates. So Pierce has been doing his best to fill the role of distributor on a team that doesn't have a true backup point guard (Delonte West is the closest thing and he's sidelined with a fractured right wrist).
While Nate Robinson fills Rondo's spot in the starting lineup, Pierce likes to see himself as the point guard and Robinson as the off-guard, filling Pierce's scoring void.
"Honestly, I'm a playmaker," Pierce said. "Usually, me and [Rondo] handle a lot of the playmaking responsibilities. With Rondo out, I am asked to handle the ball a little bit more. That's the results, I think."
Rivers didn't seem overly surprised by Pierce's production, saying he's seen Pierce's overall ability in his seven years behind the Boston bench. He praised Pierce's basketball IQ and placed him in the same class as LeBron James in terms of all-around value on the court.
In the visitors locker room, former Celtics coach Jim O'Brien -- now the head man for the Pacers -- also expected as much from Pierce.
"That's all on Paul," O'Brien said. "Paul discovered a long time ago the kind of player he wants to be. He wanted to be one of the best in the world and he is. Nothing he does surprises me."
And you can add Pierce to the list of those who were unmoved by the triple-double. He simply shrugged when asked what it meant to produce his first triple-double in the Big Three era and his first since March 8, 2006.
"I don't know, what does it mean?" Pierce asked. "I'm just happy we got the win, truthfully. All those little individual stats are good, but it really don't mean too much when you don't win. It's all about a process here that we are trying to build something. Win these games and get better."
Pierce himself keeps getting better, and that's part of the reason the Celtics are thriving in a season littered with injuries. While much talk of Boston's turnaround has focused on the renewed health of Kevin Garnett, it's often overlooked that Pierce, too, is no longer weighed down by the assortment of maladies he endured last season.
It seems Pierce can do anything he puts his mind to. While his 3-point attempts have slowly declined through his career, he prided himself last season on being a more consistent threat beyond the arc. He responded by not only shooting a career-best 41.4 percent from downtown, but also by claiming the 3-point shootout title at All-Star Weekend.
Someone get Steve Nash on the phone. If these sort of passing numbers keep up, Pierce is going to want to participate in the skills challenge, an event that tests a player's ballhandling and passing ability.
Sure, Pierce is a scorer. But don't think for a second he couldn't win that event if he put his mind to it. He showed Sunday his legacy should go well beyond the points he's scored.
Chris Forsberg is the Celtics reporter for ESPNBoston.com. Follow him on Twitter.
8dEthan Sherwood Strauss