Paul Pierce  had a good game against the Pistons. He didn’t play very much — just 23 minutes — and he didn’t put up huge numbers in the box score: 12 points, four rebounds, five assists, in a game that wasn’t close. The Celtics  won rather easily, 96-85, against a rebuilding team that isn’t very good right now, so it’s not like this one will go down in the Pierce pantheon.
Still, anyone who watched could tell you that Pierce played well in a game where no one performance really stood out besides Jermaine O’Neal ‘s 19 points.
Ray Allen  and Brandon Bass  each had 17 points. Rajon Rondo had five assists. Nothing really stands out but a look at the regular box score will tell you that five different players had eight or more shots and that no one had more than eleven. They had assists on 25 of their 35 shots and generally looked like the Celtics we’ve known over the years.
Was there a Pierce effect?
“Just having Paul, space is so different,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers  said. “It was amazing how the ball moved today again.”
So, having Pierce back in the lineup helped the Celtics play like themselves. That feels right, and just as importantly that’s what the players thought as well.  But how much did he really affect the game? This was Kevin Garnett ‘s take:
“The scoring overshadows the small things that he does,” Garnett. “He has a very, very high basketball IQ, and he’s very talkative on the court. He knows how to play. And he’s willing to give the ball up on his own. When you make sacrifices like that, when you’re P Pierce, it impact everybody and that gets overshadowed sometimes by the scoring.”
Garnett didn’t need advanced metrics or wonky stats to reach that conclusion but the numbers back him up. Or maybe it’s the other way around. One of the fun things about writing about the Celtics is that they really understand why they’re successful and that’s what advanced stats reveal the most: Who really played well and who didn’t.
The Celtics aren’t into numbers like points, rebounds and assists. They rarely use them to describe each other’s performances, or their own. You’re often likely to get admonished just for bringing up something like how many points someone scored. They’re also not into statistics like Usage Rate, Assist Percentage and Points Created because they’re old school and don’t need weird terms to tell them what they already know.
We don’t have 15 years experience in the NBA, but we do have Hoopdata’s box score  and that may be the next best thing. This is what it tells us:
Pierce didn’t dominate with his scoring. He took only eight shots and six of them were either long-range jumpers or 3-point shots. He drove to the basket once early in the game, which demonstrated that yes, he was back, and he hit a nifty isolation jumper that also proved that his skills were still there.
Pierce was efficient, needing only eight shots to score his 12 points. When you account for his two 3-pointers and two made free throws, Pierce’s True Shooting Percentage was 68 percent, but he didn’t dominate the game with his scoring.
Indeed the Celtics had five different players record True Shooting percentages over 67 percent, which showed they were not only balanced they were highly successful. Pierce was one of the main reasons. He had 39 percent of the team’s assists when he was on the floor, a number that would rank with the best point guards in the league.
While the Celtics racked up 25 assists overall, 12 of them went to long-range jump shots and 3-pointers. That speaks to ball movement and is one of the team’s trademarks, but what Pierce did was play facilitator. He had five assists and three of them led to shots directly at the rim. Another came within 10 feet of the basket and the last one was within 15 feet. In other words, Pierce’s passing led to easy scores for his teammates.
The Celtics didn’t play a perfect game. They allowed 12 offensive rebounds and 17 second-chance points. (They really did play like last year’s team). But Pierce grabbed 24 percent of the defensive rebounds when he was on the floor, the second-best rate on the team behind O’Neal.
Pierce may not have been the best player on the floor, but you can make a very good argument that he was the most effective in his limited minutes. To put it another way, he had a really good game.