SF: LeBron James vs. Paul Pierce
Pierce is the closest thing to a rival that James has ever had; their battles are numerous and legendary. A double-overtime game in 2006. The 2008, 2010, and 2011 playoffs. A triple-double and game-winning shot for Pierce in a game last January. 40-point games against each other. Battles are the norm between these two.
The energy was palpable, even in preseason:
The competition between these two, like Pierce’s prime, is years behind them. James is the league’s reigning MVP, Finals MVP, and the undisputed best player in the world, while Pierce adjusts to his new role as a floor spacer and occasional facilitator in a high-powered motion offense. James is the reason that any team competing for the championship says they have to “go through Miami.” Truthfully, the road goes through James, first and foremost.
For the Nets to be successful against James, they may need Pierce to do what he did in the 2010 playoffs: focus exclusively on slowing him down and take a step back offensively. Or, the Nets will bring in Kirilenko as their “LeBron stopper,” giving Pierce spells to focus on other things.
But one thing’s for sure: the Nets will prepare an entire defensive scheme around slowing James down. The Heat won’t do the same for Pierce.
Head-to-head: This is true, and amazing: James & Pierce have played 55 games against each other, and it couldn’t be closer. The two are 15-15 against each other in the regular season, and James is 13-12 against Pierce in the playoffs.
Middle Name Alert: LeBron has a clear advantage in the middle name department; his full name is LeBron Raymone James. Paul Pierce’s middle name is just Anthony.