Paul Pierce will always be considered of the greatest players in Boston Celtics history. He led the team to a championship in 2008, giving up his dominance on offense to take up a more tasking role defensively.
The addition of Kevin Garnett to the roster was all the motivation Pierce needed to take his defensive game to new heights. Their 2008 Finals triumph remains the only championship the C's have won in the 21st century.
To get that trophy, Pierce took it upon himself to attempt locking down Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. In an article by The Athletic's Jared Weiss, we got an insight into Pierce's mentality heading into the Finals series.
Former teammate Leon Powe talked about how Pierce got competitive with Garnett's acquisition.
“When KG came, it’s like a different type of light bulb that went off in his head. He started thinking about the bigger picture. He started thinking about the team as a whole and what we can do to get better.”
“If you bring another dude in that’s a dog, that’s KG, you’re a competitor; you don’t want him doing more work than you and vice versa. So you want to put in just as much work as he does, or even more.”
Pierce also spoke about his willingness to guard the best player on the opposition team every chance he got.
“That’s a part of the game that I wanted to show that I wasn’t no slouch in. 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.”
Although Pierce was a wingman and Kobe was a shooting guard, he chose to switch because Kobe had his was with Ray Allen and easily got to his spots. Double-teaming Kobe was also not a smart choice as he could find the open man, and this is when Pierce opted to take the challenge and was on Kobe's hip every time he touched the ball.
“Of course, I want to annoy Kobe. Of course, I want to lock him down. Of course. When your teammates see you taking the lead on that, it inspires them. They’re like, ‘Damn, Paul, gonna pick him up and take on that challenge.’ That let everybody know that I got him, and they’re like, ‘I gotta do my job over here if he’s doing that.’”
Powe continued, speaking on how Pierce always sent away the help and was determined to stop Kobe alone. Although Kobe averaged 25.7 points in the series, it easily would have been one of his hardest series. At the end of the six-game series, the Celtics lifted the trophy, and Pierce was awarded the Finals MVP for his efforts.