LOS ANGELES -- A popular line of questioning at the 2010 Finals is about how the storied history between the Celtics and Lakers influences this series. When peppered with those questions, Lakers star Kobe Bryant couldn't be more dismissive, often giving some variation on the "Boston is just another team" answer.
Paul Pierce thinks differently. At least, he responds differently. Each time the Celtics' captain has been given the opportunity to talk about the past, he has embraced it.
"I love the fact that I get to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a Game 7 on the road," said Pierce. "I love the fact that, if I don't win multiple championships, I probably won't be mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtics history that have done it before. That type of stuff motivates me. That type of stuff, I think, helps me play at my best when I'm put to that type of test. To win another championship would be the best thing that can ever happen."
Indeed, Pierce's place in Celtics history is a topic of great debate. Statistically, among the legends he has few peers. Only two former Celtics (John Havlicek, Larry Bird) have scored more career points than Pierce (19,899) and before his career is over he will likely leave Bird in the dust. His career scoring average is second only to Bird and when he finally calls it quits, he will have a place in among the top 10 in virtually every major offensive category.
But greatness in Boston isn't measured in scoring titles or MVP trophies. It's measured in rings. Bill Russell has 11. Sam Jones has 10. K.C. Jones, Tommy Heinsohn, Satch Sanders and Havlicek have eight. Bob Cousy has six. The last trio to be known as The Big Three -- Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish -- have three.
"A lot of guys have won one," he said. "But all the great Celtics have won two, at least. I want to be mentioned in that group."
In many ways, Pierce controls his own destiny. His numbers in this series are solid -- a team-leading 18.0 points on 45.8 percent shooting -- but he has had only one break-out game, a 27-point performance in Game 5. As much as the Celtics like to play inside-out with Kevin Garnett and feed Ray Allen coming off screens, Pierce is Boston's go-to player. His offensive repertoire is diverse and he has a knack for getting a shot off in traffic.
Pierce's impact on the game will likely go a long way toward determining its outcome. His Lakers counterpart, Ron Artest, hasn't had the most effective series, but he's a mercenary, brought in for the specific reason of stifling the opposition's most prolific scorer (in this case, Pierce) in critical moments. At times, Pierce has made Artest look silly. He generally creates room with his first step and the variety of his shot attempts has had Artest guessing. However, there have been times that the physical Artest, who gets away with more bumping because of his reputation, has had an advantage.
"I don't know if I have played great defense [on Pierce] this series," said Artest. "But the series isn't over yet."
Like Bryant needs help to beat Boston, so does Pierce to oust L.A. But if he can control his matchup with Artest, Pierce knows he can put the Celtics in a great position to win. And put himself one step closer to becoming a full-fledged member of Boston royalty.
"That's what we play for," said Pierce. "That's what motivates me each and every year, and that's what the challenge is for me every time I put on this Celtic uniform. To win one would be great, and I haven't really even thought about the feeling of not being there with the other guys and winning multiple championships, because I feel like we're going to get it done."