Paul Pierce and LeBron James were once rival superstars in the Eastern Conference. The two have had countless playoff battles, with both having won series against the other. There's no doubt that the competition between the two made for some interesting basketball.
When a player competes against other players who play at a high level, that's bound to bring out the best in them and help them elevate to the next level. In an interview with Jared Weiss of The Athletic, Paul Pierce revealed his belief that he and LeBron James got the best out of one another. Pierce mentions that he wanted to match up against stars like James on defense and that he "wanted that challenge".
“That’s a part of the game that I wanted to show that I wasn’t no slouch in,” says Pierce. “I’m competitive, and I want to match up. I don’t see that today. I want to play against the guys that played my position — LeBron, Melo, Kobe — and when I see these marquee matchups where they don’t guard each other, I’m like why don’t they want that challenge? I wanted that challenge. That just made me better.”
Pierce would be in practice diagramming with Garnett, Perkins and Thibodeau how he wanted to take on the best stars. He would map out where he would funnel their drives so guys knew when to help or what situations he was going to take them one-on-one.
When the coaches gave him a different assignment, he would insist they give it back to him. The greater the player, the more he wanted the challenge. It led to some all-time moments, like his epic crunch-time shootout against James in Game 7 of the second round.
“That’s what stars need to do, man. You gotta take their hits. I’ve always been like if you’re gonna bust my ass, then so be it,” says Pierce. “But I’m gonna take the challenge. LeBron was great, I was able to be great, and we just brought out the best in each other.”
Paul Pierce has previously claimed that players in today's era are afraid of LeBron James, something that he stated wasn't the case in his era. It is clear that his willingness to guard James was part of the reason the Celtics went into matchups against James without fear, as they followed the lead of their superstar.
Both LeBron James and Paul Pierce are elite small-forwards who have made their mark on NBA history. There's clear respect from Pierce towards his former opponent, and he knows that their matchups forced him to give it his all. Paul Pierce was one of the superstars in history that managed to lead his team to victories against James, so he knows just how much it took to beat him.