Stretching the Field: Pierce has Hall of Fame status

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Updated: 4/09/2014 1:02 pm

( - If Mitch Richmond, Sarunas Marciulionis and Alonzo Mourning can live in basketball immortality, then Paul Pierce deserves to be right behind them when it's his time.

Heck, Pierce should be ahead of that troika after his playing days are over.

The Hall of Fame debate with Pierce is heating up because of a milestone he will soon achieve, as the one also known as "The Truth" is five points shy of becoming the fourth active player (Kobe Bryant, Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Garnett) and the 18th in NBA history with 25,000 career points.

Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Adrian Dantley and Larry Bird are some of the NBA's greatest players who did not reach 25,000 points. All of them except Iverson, who will be when eligible, are in the Hall of Fame.

Pierce is a model of durability and could finish in the top 10 on the all-time scoring list with more than 26,000 points.

So where do Richmond, Marciulionis and Mourning stand?

Richmond compiled 20,497 points, Mourning ended his career with 14,311 and Marciulionis had 4,631 in his career. Marciulionis's numbers may seem unworthy of a sniff in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but his development of basketball in Lithuania gets him to Springfield, Mass.

Richmond and Mourning are both NBA champions, and so is Pierce. Thus, this column should end here with my point coming across justified unless you truly despise Pierce and his extensive career.

Pierce overcame the odds growing up in Inglewood, Calif., and now he's on the periphery of eternal life in basketball lore.

He was a first-round pick of the Boston Celtics in 1998 and a first-team All- America selection at Kansas. He played an integral part on the Celtics teams that won the NBA title in 2008 and lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2010 Finals, and could possibly go down as one of the greatest Boston players.

That's no joke.

Pierce is up there with Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Bob Cousy and Bird as Boston greats. The 10-time All-Star, who played the first 15 seasons of his career with the Celtics, departed Beantown in an offseason trade to the Brooklyn Nets, and the change didn't look good at first.

Pierce and his buddy Garnett, another vital piece to Boston's 2008 title and a future Hall of Famer, struggled out of the gates in their new digs with a 10-21 record. That's when Pierce and the Nets came together. Pierce averaged 12.6 points before New Year's Day, then the Nets won five in a row to start 2014. The Nets went 10-3 in January and are 33-13 since the calendar turned with Pierce posting a slightly better average with 14.1 points per game in that span.

The Nets are only the third team in the past 40 years to qualify for the playoffs after beginning a new year at least 10 games below .500.

Pierce doesn't have to be the man in Brooklyn. He knew that coming in with a roster sprinkled with talent in Joe Johnson and Deron Williams. But what the Nets lacked was a veteran presence and someone with playoff experience. That's what Pierce brings to the re-energized Nets, who are within striking distance of an Atlantic Division title and one of the high seeds in the Eastern Conference.

Pierce just helped the Nets to a four-game season sweep of the two-time defending champion Miami Heat and stepped up his game in those meetings, averaging 21.3 ppg. That is his highest scoring clip against any team in the NBA and it proves Pierce still has game in the twilight of his career.

The Nets will be a tough out in the playoffs and Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra is a believer after going 0-4 against them. The Nets are the only team Miami couldn't beat once this season.

"They're a good team," Spoelstra said. "They're one of the hotter teams since the All-Star break. Every single one of these games, however you want to slice it, however you get to that point, there are plays to be made in the fourth quarter. And for whatever reason, they've made more plays."

Brooklyn posted an 88-87 win in Miami on Tuesday, when Pierce ended with 14 points and rookie Mason Plumlee blocked LeBron James' game-winning dunk attempt in the waning moments. Like all veterans, Pierce appreciates Plumlee's heroics, but knows he's still a rookie.

"He still got to come in here and carry the bags and get the towels," Pierce said afterward.

Pierce had to cater to veterans at one point and now is on the verge of carrying himself into basketball timelessness.

While to some it may seem the Hall of Fame is becoming a trendy turnstile for its diversity, there's an abundance of "Truth" behind Pierce's case for enshrinement.

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