Kevin Garnett recently said Paul Pierce deserved to make this All-Star trip more than himself. Some critics, including Charles Barkley, claimed the only Celtic who should have been selected for last night’s game was Rajon Rondo. But Garnett is resolute in promoting Pierce, whose performance has risen to an all-encompassing level since Rondo’s injury. “He absolutely should be here,” said Garnett. “I believe when you’re deserving and you’re a great player, you should be rewarded for that. He’s one of the best players in our league, hands down. “Obviously, when you get older you get compared to whoever. But when it comes down to it, no one hits tougher shots than Paul, no one puts the ball in the basket better than Paul. “There aren’t too many scorers who do what he does, and he’s doing it at an older age,” he said. “You have to take that into account. Obviously things change, the league is trying to promote other guys who are doing well. Not to take anything away from them, but the league should recognize who’s deserving.” Garnett has no problem listing the ways Pierce — at least during the last 21⁄2 weeks — earned his right to be in Houston. It starts with the Celtics’ 7-1 record since their Jan. 27 win over Miami — the first game missed by Rondo because of his ACL tear. “Paul’s led a team,” said Garnett. “Since I’ve been on the team he’s been one of our leaders. We lost Rondo, and it was going to be tough, but we have leaders who have led before. Leaders who have carried the offense before. “Are we a better team without Rondo? No,” he said. “We have to do it by committee versus one guy who does a lot of different things for us. But we have leaders and guys who are willing to fight and scrap. I’m taking that team over any team that’s just talented.”