By the numbers:
Paul Pierce: 75 G, 68 GS, 28.0 MPG, 13.5 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.1 SPG, 0.4 BPG, .451 FG%, .373 3P%, .826 FT%, 16.8 PER
Amir Johnson 77 G, 72 GS, 28.8 MPG, 10.4 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 1.5 APG, 0.7 SPG, 1.1 BPG, .562 FG%, .303 3P%, .636 FT%, 15.4 PER
Johnson & Pierce is one of the more intriguing matchups in this series, if only because it happened by accident: Pierce stepped on Johnson’s power forward lawn after a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez caused the Nets to re-imagine their lineup. Depending on how you look at it, the smaller, older, craftier Pierce presents a matchup problem for the bigger, younger, more athletic Johnson… or vice versa.
The matchup will come down to who can institute their style. The Truth showed he still has the scoring touch against the Raptors, with a 33-point performance in a one-point loss against Toronto in January. He’ll need to have his outside shot going to stretch the floor and draw Johnson out to the perimeter. If Pierce is unable to dictate the play and Johnson can plug the lane and clean up on the glass against Pierce, it might be a long series for the elder statesmen.
Luckily for Pierce, Johnson’s not much of a scoring threat. He converts 1.5 pick-and-roll plays into scores per game (via Synergy) and does decent work attacking the glass, but he’s not an interior threat that’s going to make Pierce work possession after possession on defense. That doesn’t mean he’s anemic offensively — he’s averaging a career-high 10 field goal attempts per 36 minutes and converting 56.2 percent of his field goals — but he’s not going to create his own shot much in the post.
The opposite is true for Pierce, who can still create his shot off the dribble and hit three-pointers, shooting right around his career averages from the field and three-point range. It’s coming in a reduced role Pierce has embraced, as the future Hall of Fame forward played just 28 minutes per game in the regular season, down 5.4 minutes per game from last season’s career low, and shot a career-high 42.1 percent of his shots from three-point range.
Johnson may be athletic and his offensive game is on the upswing, but the future Hall of Famer Pierce still has a little something left in the tank. Besides, it’s the playoffs, and experience often outsmarts youth in the postseason.
Note: with additional reporting and analysis from Devin Kharpertian.