Isn't it amazing, I said to Paul Pierce before the Celtics practiced Tuesday, that you and Kobe Bryant are turning into point guards?
"I'm a small forward," he said with a long, smiling shake of his head.
He was selling himself short. Just as Bryant has become more than a shooting guard for the recovering Lakers, Pierce will be more than a small forward for his depleted Celtics, who lost point guard Rajon Rondo to a torn ACL on Sunday. The Celtics are going to be relying on Pierce to be their distributor as well as a threat to score. That happens to be the same role the Lakers are demanding of Bryant.
It is to his credit that Pierce clearly didn't want to receive accolades in advance, as if he wanted to prove he could keep the Celtics relevant before receiving commendation. He also didn't seek to be compared favorably to Bryant, who has taken it upon himself to amass 39 assists (a personal record) in the Lakers' last three wins.
"I'm only doing it because Rondo's hurt," Pierce said.
The fact remains: The two leading scorers of the league's two most important teams are now taking on much larger responsibility at the back ends of their careers. Let us count the ways in which Pierce's Celtics and Bryant's Lakers continue to mirror one another. Each side opened training camp with hope of winning the championship. Midseason finds both teams struggling to make the playoffs. To their rescue comes Pierce, 35, the No. 2 all-time scorer of the league's winningest franchise, and Bryant, 34, the leading scorer of the No. 2 franchise. Each is suddenly taking on a new playmaking role for his team, a role that would have been expected of neither one of them not so long ago.
"They're smart enough to do it, they're capable and it just tells you how good they are when they can change the way they play at any point in their careers," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "There [are] few people that can do that."
Who would have guessed one decade ago that either one of them would or could provide this kind of leadership? When they were at their best athletically, Bryant and Pierce were derided as scorers who were selfish to the detriment of their teams. Bryant infamously wanted to fulfill his potential while refusing to defer to Shaquille O'Neal. He won three championships with O'Neal and two more without him, emerging as the NBA's most ruthless finisher.
Even this year Bryant was accused of shooting too much. He was taking charge, as he saw it. His Lakers were in disarray and he was leading by doing what comes naturally. But that turns out to have been the problem for this Lakers team in particular: All of their stars were doing what they had always done, instead of adapting to fit one another.
Pierce, Bryant proving old dogs can learn new tricks
SI.com | Jan 30