Going into last night’s contest against the Utah Jazz, Paul Pierce had managed to only shoot 30.6 percent from the field and 24.7 percent from deep. He had been so bad this season that he racked up more personal fouls (42) than made field goals (37), and as many turnovers as made threes (19). But, last night, when the Los Angeles Clippers needed him most, the man known as “The Truth” helped lead them to a win on the road. We’re going to look back at all six of his makes, including his five threes, to see just how he did it. Let’s watch.
Shortly after Pierce came into the game, he shared the floor with two bench players and two starters. The Clippers have a BLOB possession here, and they begin it by running Jamal Crawford off of a couple slip screens. On the last one, Pierce flares to the left wing. As he does so, DeAndre Jordan sets him a fantastic screen that rubs Trey Lyles out of the play completely. Pierce cuts to his right, drives to the rim, and throws down a dunk. Like, an actual dunk. It happened. We witnessed it. It was an interesting look, and it really showed something that Pierce still might be able to do – i.e. attack closeouts and drive to the rim.
Pierce’s defender on this play was Trevor Booker. It appears as if Booker didn’t respect Pierce’s driving ability, and Pierce made him pay by attacking the closeout to the opposite direction. This allowed Pierce a free lane to the paint, where it also looked like the Utah defenders on the weakside were caught completely by surprise that a 38-year old man was about to throw one down. The rotational defense is late, Pierce dunks it, and the Clippers break double-digits in the game. This is an interesting set when you really think about it. The team needed a quick shot, got one, and it happened to be at the rim after a guy recognized what the defense was giving him. Major kudos to Pierce here.
In the second quarter, we see Pierce operating with an all-bench lineup. Pierce begins the play at the left wing, but then dummy cuts to the paint before slipping back out top after a Cole Aldrich screen that was supposed to free Pierce up. Pierce then kicks it back to Pablo Prigioni and maneuvers to the left corner. As Prigioni comes off of a pick-and-roll with Aldrich, he finds Aldrich with a sweet pocket pass. Aldrich recognizes the defense collapsing on him, so he dishes it out to Wesley Johnson on the left wing for an open three. However, Johnson anticipates Trey Burke closing out on him and passes too quickly to Pierce. With nearly no time remaining on the shot clock, Pierce is forced to shoot a massively contested corner three, and he hits it to bring the Clippers within 4 points.
This is a tough shot, and it’s one Pierce has made a career out of knocking down. The interesting parts of this play are what takes place prior to him getting the ball the final time. Pierce initially comes off of a little dummy cut and Aldrich screen, but the lack of space coming off limits his ability to shoot. They then work a pick-and-roll, and Aldrich makes a fantastic read to Johnson. In all seriousness, Johnson should have shot this ball. He grossly underestimated how much space he truly had, and he thought Burke was going to close out to him instead. Still, heck of a shot by Pierce to bring the team even closer. The set worked, just in an unconventional way.
We have another BLOB play for the Clippers here, and it begins with an inbounds to DeAndre Jordan. From there, Jordan hands off to Chris Paul and cuts to the rim. Paul Pierce scoots over to act like he’s going to screen for Paul, but Paul goes in the opposite direction of the screen which draws two defenders towards him. This leaves Pierce wide open. As soon as Paul sees Raul Neto ICE the screen and Lyles run over to cut off his driving lane, Paul dishes back to Pierce on the right wing for a three ball that connects. There was nothing Lyles could do here to recover in time.
This is pretty beautiful action here. The way Pierce sort of jogs over to set a screen really fooled Utah. They thought the screen was coming, and they even ICE’d the screen entirely. This forced Paul into a pass out to the wing, which is where he knew Pierce would be. Utah’s insistence to trap Paul on the pick-and-roll here rather than switching really did them in. Pierce got free to a sweet spot, found nothing but space and opportunity, and let fire rain down from above. Well done by all parties.
A little later in the third quarter, we get a Paul-Jordan pick-and-roll combination that is designed to space the floor with a rim run. Paul comes off the screen to the right, Jordan rolls to the rim, and Pierce is left all alone on the left wing. Jeff Withey has to run into the paint to dig down on the roll by Jordan, and Pierce gets the ball after Paul fires a skip pass over the top to him. Withey closes out, but he stops too far away from Pierce to deny a shot attempt. Pierce lets loose, the ball splashes in, and the Clippers are within a single tally.
Theoretically, this is what Pierce can do as a spacing player in lineups. The threat of Jordan’s roll and the lob attempt is what leads to the future Hall of Famer being wide open on the wing. Withey is forced to help on the roll, and he does an admirable job to get back and contest Pierce’s shot, but he stops way too short. Withey has to force Pierce to put the ball on the floor. By allowing Pierce that much room to get his shot off, Pierce ultimately wins the exchange of minds and acumen. Ball goes in, deficit goes down, and all is right in the world. Great set, and great shot.
Several minutes later, Pierce has the ball at the top of the arc after Paul passes it to him. Pierce acts like he’s going to dribble drive to the rim, but he primarily operates a dribble hand-off with Paul. It’s a quick pick action with a weakside curl. Pierce hits Paul with the hand-off, and he flares out to the right wing to create space. Utah goes over the top of the screen, and when J.J. Redick gets the ball after a curl, it leaves the defense scrambling in all the wrong places. Redick jump passes to Pierce, Lyles is too late to recover, and Pierce knocks in his fourth three-pointer of the night to bring the Clippers back within a single point again.
Here, the Clippers just take advantage of Lyles’ lack of awareness, as well as his overall lack of experience. When Pierce sets the initial screen, Lyles strings out Paul, but he never gets back to his own man. When Redick comes off of the curl, Lyles is stuck in a spot that you don’t want to be stuck in – too far away to help, and too far away to recover. Redick spots the spacing, hits Pierce with a pass, and Pierce completes the action with a made three. This is an instance where Pierce’s ability to know where to be helped the team. The fact he made the shot is obviously a key component here, but the awareness in general is the real positive aspect.
In the waning moments of the game, the Clippers had the ball with just a two point lead. They needed a bucket to pretty much ensure victory. Paul Pierce decided to help. This is a set designed to do two things: (a) cause confusion, and (b) spring someone wide open for a three. Redick sets a screen for Paul, and Rodney Hood does a good job of getting over the top of it. Joe Ingles is the man guarding Redick here, and when Redick zooms around the double screen set on the right side, he points to a teammate to switch. That teammate is Gordon Hayward. Ingles thinks Hayward is too late to switch, so Ingles has to rotate back over to Redick, but Hayward is already doing the job. This leaves Pierce wide open, since Hayward was his defender, when Pierce shoots out from behind a screen by Luc Mbah a Moute. Pierce hits the right wing, Paul finds him with a pass, and the ball hits the bottom of the net to give the Clippers a two possession lead.
This was, undoubtedly, Paul Pierce’s best game since he came to Los Angeles. It will take more games like this for him to start to live up to his lofty signing praise, but this is a quality start. While he’s still not even average on the defensive end, Pierce’s ability to just stretch the floor from a reputation standpoint is a big deal. If he’s able to even hit 38 percent of his threes from here on out, then the Clippers might be able to survive the loss of Blake Griffin. All told, The Truth did his job against the Utah Jazz. The team will need him to continue stepping up in a huge way if they are to stay afloat. As for last night, Pierce did his job. That’s all you can ask.