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Paul Pierce Looks to Step Up in Blake Griffin’s Absence

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce, left, prior to an NBA basketball game against the Dallas Mavericks in Los Angeles, Calif., on Thursday, Oct. 29, 2015. (Photo by Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)
Keith Birmingham/ Pasadena Star-News/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire

Paul Pierce had far and away his best game of the season on Saturday night, scoring a season-high 20 points as his Los Angeles Clippers defeated the Utah Jazz, 109-104.

I’m not here to give you a game recap, but in the Clippers’ first game since Blake Griffin suffered a partially torn quad, it had to be incredibly encouraging for coach Doc Rivers to have someone other than Chris Paul, J.J. Redick and DeAndre Jordan step up to help get the win. Considering this was the first time that Pierce had double-digit field goal attempts, and beyond that, the first time he logged more than 20 minutes in a game since mid-November, maybe he can finally break out of his season-long slump in Griffin’s absence.

To this point in the season, Pierce is averaging 4.6 points on 32.6 percent shooting and 28.6 from three, all career-lows. Even worse, the Clippers have been outscored by 8.2 points per 100 possessions with him on the court, which is third-worst on the team behind Josh Smith and Cole Aldrich, according to NBA.com. Pierce has clearly been struggling on the offensive end, where according to Basketball-Reference, he has a 91 offensive rating (his previous career-low was 101 back in the 2002-03 season).

Pierce was obviously brought to L.A. to give the Clippers a scoring spark at the small-forward position, and by the looks of that last paragraph, he’s failed miserably through the first third-plus of the season. However, going 5-of-7 from three the other night could be a sign that he’s finally getting his legs under him, as was this:

Before Saturday night, Pierce looked old, slow and completely washed up. The dunk was his lone made field goal that wasn’t a three, but it’s encouraging to see that Pierce still has the confidence (of course he does) to keep pulling the trigger and even attack the basket despite how badly he’s struggled.

It’s also encouraging to see that this point in the season has more or less been a swing period for Pierce over the last two seasons, when he’s been more of a role player. Let’s go back to Pierce’s 2013-14 season with the Brooklyn Nets. Before December 25, he averaged 12.6 points on 40.2 percent shooting and 34.5 percent from three. After December 25, he brought those marks up to 13.8 points on 47.1 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three. The trend continued from an efficiency standpoint last season with the Washington Wizards, where Pierce’s before and after Christmas splits went from 13.1/43.4/34.3 to 11.1/45.5/41.2:

With Pierce and the Clippers heading back to Washington on Monday night to face his previous team, there’s added incentive for the 38-year-old wing to prove he’s still got it. Saturday’s game earned Pierce the nod over Smith as the starting power forward, which is no surprise given Smith logged just under five minutes despite starting and was a -6 in that time. Pierce finished the game with a team-high +19.

The fact of the matter is Griffin’s going to miss a minimum of two weeks, and the Clippers are going to need someone to fill the scoring void in the frontcourt. With Pierce playing 62 percent of his minutes at the power-forward position, per Basketball-Reference, there’s good reason to believe that he’s the most capable man for the job.

If Pierce is able to help the team again tonight, Rivers and the rest of the Clippers fan base will be happy to ignore the 28 bad games that led to his revival. We all know that Pierce is a fighter, and these next two weeks will show just how much fight he has left in the tank.

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