Every so often,
Joyce Pierce, A former member of the pop group the Fifth Dimension, will sing
the national anthem at center court to begin an evening at the Bradley Center,
while her husband, Ricky Pierce, a swingman for the Milwaukee Bucks, stands
behind her right shoulder, enjoying the show. After Joyce's spirited soprano
ranges over the land of the free-e-e-e and the home of the bra-a-a-a-ave,
inspiring patriotic delirium in the stands, Ricky gets a few pats on the back
from his teammates and a challenge from his coach, Del Harris. "O.K., big
boy," Harris says. "Now go out and top that."
Of course, Harris
doesn't mean right away. The Pierces are the NBA's odd couple: She starts
games, he comes off the bench. For the first half of the first quarter, the
6'4", 220-pound Ricky Pierce will sit, studying the play before him with
practiced ease. His elbows rest on his knees; his hands hold a towel; his gaze
darts out from above his high cheekbones. After six or seven minutes have
passed, Harris will summon Pierce and usher him into the game as Milwaukee's
first substitute at big guard or, more often, small forward. Ricky is the
league's leading sixth man, but it would be a mistake to call him a sixth
dimension since his task is mainly one-dimensional. "My job," he says,
"is to come in and score."
Pierce is known as the Deuces by his teammates, as much for his ability to
quickly pile up points in pairs as for his jersey number, 22. Last season
Pierce averaged 23.0 points and 29 minutes a game, which gave him a projected
scoring average of 38.1 points for a full 48 minutes; only Chicago's Michael
Jordan (41.4) and Utah's Karl Malone (39.1) had higher projected scoring
figures. Also, Pierce shot better than 50% from the field for the sixth
straight year. His remarkable offensive production last season earned him the
NBA's Outstanding Sixth Man award for the second time in the award's eight-year
existence, a feat equaled only by Boston's Kevin McHale.
despite being hampered by a pulled groin muscle in his left thigh, Pierce
through Sunday was averaging 21.9 points in 28.1 minutes (a projected 37.4
points) on 49.1% shooting. And he was a major reason that the Central
Division-leading Bucks were off to a startling 24-8 start, including a 17-0
record at home.
Bucks are an odd mix: Shooting guard Alvin Robertson leads the team in
offensive rebounding, center Jack Sikma is third in three-point shooting, and
frontcourtman Frank Brickowski and backup center Danny Schayes—last season they
were journeymen at best in San Antonio and Denver, respectively—have revived
their moribund careers. The bench-warming Pierce fits in as Milwaukee's
steadiest scorer. "You know Ricky's going to be there after the game
starts," says Robertson. "And you know he's going to be there down the
Some examples. In
Washington on Nov. 9, Milwaukee held a 92-91 lead over the Bullets with 4:03 to
play. Pierce poured in 13 of the Bucks' last 16 points to provide a comfy
108-100 win. In Milwaukee on Nov. 27, the Bucks trailed the Indiana Pacers
52-49 at intermission. Pierce scored 29 of his 37 points in the second half,
including 18 in the fourth quarter, laying waste to an ascending trio of Pacer
defenders—6'6" Mike Sanders, 6'8" Chuck Person and 6'10" Detlef
Schrempf—in Milwaukee's 112-98 victory. Last Thursday Pierce poured in 15 of
his 28 points in the fourth quarter—he has averaged 8.3 for that period—to lift
the Bucks to a 97-87 win over Dallas.
Darwinism of the NBA has weeded out many a "tweener" of Pierce's size
(small for the frontcourt) and speed (slow for the backcourt). But the Deuces'
attacking style snares defenders in a Catch-22. He'll draw taller, slower
forwards through a thicket of screens to the perimeter, where he's a threat to
pop his gentle jumper or, if the coverage is tight, explode with a dribble into
the lane. He'll also drag smaller, quicker guards down to the box, where he
uses his strength and his rump to post up with impunity. Either way, he
frequently heads to the free throw line, where he's an 89.6% shooter.
the outside shot and he's strong down low, but what makes him really difficult
is that he has the in-between game," says Atlanta Hawk guard Doc Rivers.
"He can take the ball into the lane on one or two dribbles and pull up for
the short jumper. That's the hardest shot to make, and it's his best shot.
Then, he's so mentally tough. Against some guys you go into the game with one
plan on how to stop them, and you can get them frustrated. With him that may
work for five minutes, but then you have to change the plan. When I do summer
camps and I get asked who's the hardest guy for me to guard, I don't hesitate.
It's Ricky Pierce."
Being a sub is a
role to which Pierce has grown accustomed; he has started only 82 games in nine
NBA seasons, the last seven of those seasons with the Bucks. A native Texan,
Pierce bellies up to his job with a down-home blend of pragmatism and
orneriness. "To be honest with you, I don't even worry about starting,"
he says. "If it happens, it happens. But there are nights I want to go out
earlier, in the beginning of the game, and set the tone. I want to let the
other team know what type of night they're going to have."
Since the Celtics
first used 6'3" swingman Frank Ramsey as a sixth man in 1954, the task has
been best performed by multiposition players who could make a sudden impact on
offense or defense. Ramsey's successors—John Havlicek, McHale and Bill
Walton—played crucial parts in each of Boston's championship years, just as
Billy Cunningham and Bobby Jones did for the Philadelphia 76ers, Michael Cooper
for the L.A. Lakers and Dennis Rodman for the Detroit Pistons. For Milwaukee,
Pierce barely rebounds (2.5 boards over his career) and passes (1.8 assists),
but after he pops off his warmup jersey and waves in at the scorer's table, he
can put on an offensive surge that will tilt the game.