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When Paul Pierce took the challenge of guarding Kobe Bryant in the 2008 NBA Finals

Paul Pierce's defense may be one of the most underrated parts of his game.
When Paul Pierce took the challenge on guarding Kobe Bryant

Paul Pierce took on the immense responsibility of guarding Kobe Bryant

When the late but great Kobe Bryant was asked who’s the toughest defender he’s ever faced, the Black Mamba was quick to name Tony Allen. His reason: Allen did not ask for help. This immediately propelled the former Boston Celtics guard to the upper echelons of the greatest defenders ever. However, Bryant may have forgotten another Celtic great who took the challenge of stopping him via one-on-one coverage: Paul Pierce.

Guarding Kobe full court

Leon Powe, a member of the 2008 Boston Celtics championship team, recalled how Pierce volunteered to contain Bryant on the offensive end. Knowing that this was a colossal task, Pierce guarded Bryant the entire length of the floor. He wasn’t giving the Los Angeles Lakers legend an inch to breathe.

“I remember in the Finals, Paul was picking up Kobe damn near full court. Full court! We got in a timeout, and we said, ‘You don’t have to pick up Kobe full court.’ He looked at us and said, ‘Nah! Nah! I got him! I got him! I don’t need no help!’ That’s all he kept saying. He kept repeating, ‘Don’t help me!’” Powe said, per The Athletic.

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A look at the numbers reveals that Bryant averaged 25.7 points per game during the 2008 NBA Finals. This was his fourth-best scoring production out of his seven NBA Finals appearances. This isn’t a clear indicator of whether Pierce’s tactics were effective. However, Bryant converted just 40.5 percent of his shots from the field. That ranks third worst out of his seven NBA Finals appearances.

Lowe was right in his reading of Pierce’s choice because him guarding the best player on the opposing team was meant to send a signal to the rest of the squad. As one of the Celtics leaders, Pierce wanted to show that he was willing to do anything to win that elusive Larry O’Brien trophy. If it required guarding the deadliest scoring assassin in NBA history, then so be it.

Pierce’s tactics

But Pierce isn’t regarded as one of the greats for his capacity to lead and inspire his teammates alone. Like Bryant, Pierce approaches the game like a science. As such, he stepped up to guard the Black Mamba because he knew he had an inherent advantage.

“This was the thing, Kobe was great in the mid-post area and getting position,” says Pierce. “When we had Ray guarding him, it was easier for him to get that position. But me being a little bit bigger, I can move him off his spots, and it required less help.”

Pierce’s efforts weren’t made in vain. As we all know, The Truth claimed his first-ever NBA title in 2008. What made things more remarkable is they won one over their biggest rivals. What made it sweeter was that Pierce was able to contain the Black Mamba — a task only a few have accomplished. 

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