BOSTON – It took more than a decade for Paul Pierce to win an NBA title in Boston.
But he will be the first to tell you that the wait was worth it.
He knows better than most how special it is to win a championship in this title-starved city, to be the go-to man for a team in pursuit of that oh-so-elusive Larry O’Brien trophy.
Which is why you can count Pierce among those who believe that new Celtic Kyrie Irving is more than ready to step into those shoes as Boston’s main guy and do what hasn’t been done since the days when Pierce wore Celtics Green – win an NBA title.
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“Kyrie can impact this team in a major way,” Pierce said in an exclusive 1-on-1 interview with CSN’s A. Sherrod Blakely. “You saw what Isaiah Thomas was able to do. A lot of people, even though Isaiah averaged more points, a lot of people believe Kyrie is a better scorer.”
Thomas, who was part of the trade with Cleveland that sent Irving to Boston, ranked third in the NBA in scoring last season with a 28.9 points per game average – tops among all players in the East.
Irving is also coming off a banner season in which he posted career highs in several categories, including points (25.2), field goal percentage (.473) and free throw shooting percentage (.905).
Cavs general manager Koby Altman had nothing but praise for Irving earlier this month during Cleveland’s introduction of Isaiah Thomas, Jae Crowder and Ante Zizic at the team’s practice facility.
“He (Irving) made tremendous contributions to this franchise and this city,” Altman said. “He was here six years and he became a champion here and he helped us win a championship in spectacular fashion. And so, I think we owe him a thank you and we owe him a debt of gratitude and we'll always be thankful for his exciting years with the Cavaliers.”
Making Irving’s play even more impressive was how he was able to stand out among the best in the NBA, despite playing alongside LeBron James who is widely considered the best player on the planet.
“If you can average 25 points, 26 points and you got LeBron James on your team, that’s pretty impressive,” Pierce said.
With Cleveland, James was often the primary facilitator while Irving played off the ball more but with the ball in hand, Irving frequently took his defender off the dribble with drives into the lane which was a major factor in his 8.3 points scored in the paint per game which according to nba.com/stats, ranked 10th among all guards in the NBA last season.
But no James means that the Celtics offense will often begin with Irving as the initiator, a role that will test the balancing act all great scorers have between creating their own shot versus creating shots for others.
He averaged 5.8 assists per game with an assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.32 which ranked seventh among all NBA guards who appeared in as many games (72) last season as Irving.
In Boston, Irving joins a team with a pair of fellow All-Stars (Al Horford and Gordon Hayward) who while talented, aren’t as explosive off the dribble as the 25-year-old Irving who has already been named to four All-Star teams.
“He’s going to be the guy,” Pierce said. “He has championship experience. He’s still young and he’s got some other guys to play with.”
In addition to Horford and Hayward, Irving will also be instrumental in leading Boston’s next wave of impact players that will likely be led by second-year wing player Jaylen Brown as well as rookie Jayson Tatum who was selected by Boston with the third overall pick in last June’s NBA draft.
As talented as Brown and Tatum are, they will benefit greatly from the wisdom and guidance of a proven veteran like Irving who is still relatively young.
“He was ready for this type of role, to be the lead guy,” Pierce said. “He’s learned a lot under LeBron’s tutelage. He’s ready to share that with his teammates and possibly bring another championship to Boston.”