Paul Pierce was the easy vote for 2008 NBA Finals MVP after the Boston Celtics finished off the Los Angeles Lakers with a 131-92 rout in Game 6. If you just quickly glanced at a stat sheet, Pierce was the Celtics’ leading scorer for the series. He was a longtime Boston athlete who’d labored for some awful teams. Giving him the MVP trophy in front of the Garden crowd was a great moment. But to dig just a little bit deeper is to see that Kevin Garnett is the man who should have gotten the individual honor.
Let’s start with the basic stats. While Pierce was the leading scorer at 21.8 ppg, he was not a prohibitive leader. Garnett still averaged 18 a night and Ray Allen knocked down 20 per game. The Big Three was truly just that when it came to scoring.
Garnett separated himself from his teammates with his work on the glass. KG averaged 13 rebounds per game. It was rebounding where the Celtics consistently separated themselves from the Lakers throughout the series and Garnett was the reason why.
Those are things we knew in the moment of June 2008. With the perspective of history we know that these two teams met again in 2010, Garnett did not rebound as well and the Celtics lost—mainly because of the rebounding deficiency. Paradoxically, KG’s weaker performance of ‘10 underscored his value in ‘08.
Pierce also had his best game in the least pressure-packed one. He dropped 38 in Game 5. The Celtics lost on the road, but they had already defended their home floor in Games 1 & 2 and stolen a road win in Game 4 (the Finals were played on a 2-3-2 format from 1985-2013). When the pressure returned back at the Garden in Game 6, Pierce struggled to a 4-for-13 night. Meanwhile, Garnett shot 10-for-18 in the clincher with a stat line of 26 points/14 rebounds.
Statistical review also can’t communicate how much Garnett’s defense meant to the Celtics, both in the Finals and all season long. As a Celts fan, I love Paul Pierce—in spite of what’s written here, I like him more than KG in the bigger picture. But “lockdown defender” is never a phrase that’s been used in conjunction with Pierce.
It’s easy to say “who cares”, when it comes to historical debates like this. But the fact is, we do care. We care when debating the merits of former players and look for honors like these to prove or disprove a position. Ultimately we care about legacies, because if we didn’t we’d never visit a Hall of Fame or have our picture taken by a statue of a former player. An award like this is a small piece of that, but it’s a piece nonetheless.
So it’s time to set the record straight. Paul Pierce’s legacy is—and should be—that of a noble warrior who competed in Boston during a long dry spell in the early 2000s. But the legacy of 2008 NBA Finals MVP should rightfully belong to Kevin Garnett.