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Paul Pierce battled injuries at the start and finish of the 2011-12 season.Over the three weeks leading up to start of the new league year on July 1, we'll take a player-by-player look at the Celtics' 2011-12 roster and how each player's season unfolded, assigning a grade for their overall performance. This is the eighth in the series of report cards:
Player: Paul Pierce
2011-12 averages: 19.4 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.5 apg, 34 mpg
2011-12 salary: $15.3 million
Season in a paragraph: Slowed out of the gates by a heel injury, then hindered by a sprained MCL in the postseason, Pierce epitomized the "grind" mantra of the 2011-12 season. He never quite got his jump shot right and, a season after shooting a career-best 49.7 percent from the floor, that number plummeted to 44.3 percent (below his career average). Pierce shot a mere 36.6 percent from beyond the 3-point arc, yet his scoring average actually jumped up a half point from last season. He facilitated even more offense by averaging 4.5 assists per game, his highest mark since the first year of the Big Three era (though his turnover averaged ticked up as well).
Season highlight: Before spraining his left MCL during a Game 4 walkthrough in the opening round against the Atlanta Hawks, Pierce produced a vintage playoff effort by posting 36 points and 14 rebounds in a Game 2 triumph. Playing without Rajon Rondo (ejected from Game 1), Pierce put together 44 quality minutes (despite eight turnovers) and secured a key win that prevented Boston front staring at an 0-2 hole. Ironically, Pierce's best shooting effort of the entire postseason came in Game 4 -- a game that Doc Rivers was uncertain Pierce would even dress for given the knee injury he suffered at the morning shootaround -- as he posted 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting over a mere 17 minutes to fuel a lopsided thrashing that gave Boston a 3-1 series edge. (Honorable mention: Pierce had a solid giving-the-game-what-it-needs stretch, upping his assist totals and keeping Boston afloat when Rajon Rondo was sidelined early in the season).
Season lowlight: Fresh off hitting a monster 3-pointer over LeBron James to seal a Game 5 road triumph in the Eastern Conference finals, giving Boston a 3-2 series edge and pushing the Celtics within a win of the NBA Finals, Pierce labored through 4-of-18 shooting while scoring only nine points in a Game 6 loss that featured counterpart James going off for 45 points in Boston as the Heat stole the momentum -- and maybe the series.
Final grade: B+
Teacher's notes: Pierce might have quietly been the MVP of the 2010-11 team and -- besides the shooting woes -- he was very much the same player during the 2011-12 campaign. Heck, the fact that he actually upped his scoring average as his jumper failed him might have made his season even more impressive. What's more, his assist percentage (24.3) was the second highest of his career (second only to 25.1 percent in 2003-04). For someone who had to match up against the opposing team's best scorer on a nightly basis, Pierce matched the best defensive rating of his career (99) and Synergy Sports numbers were solid for his position as well (0.8 points per play; 74th percentile overall). The number that stands out: Pierce shot a mere 36.3 percent on jumpers beyond 17 feet, according to Synergy. You can't help but wonder if that jumper will bounce back with better health next season, but it's clear that Pierce hasn't really lost a step at age 34 and can morph his game to compensate for whatever he encounters.
What's next?: Pierce still has two years and $32 million remaining on a four-year extension he signed during the 2010 offseason. The subject of occasional trade rumors this past season, there's always the chance that the Celtics could explore moving him if the core does not return (there's also the option to amnesty Pierce's contract). Alas, it's often hard to imagine that sort of messy end to his Boston career, particularly given the fact that he's still such a reliable contributor (even if minor injuries worked against him this season). Boston's captain will almost certainly be a key cog if the Celtics are to make another run at that elusive second title next season. If they don't keep the band together, his future role is a bit more murky.
Honor roll: Click HERE to read past report cards.
Don't agree with teacher? Just want to sound off on Pierce's 2011-12 season? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.