Posted by: Mike Cornelius | May 4, 2017

Celtics Fans Always Knew The Value Of The Truth

The Los Angeles Clippers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs last Sunday, beaten by the Utah Jazz at home in Game 7 of their first-round series. Early postseason exits have been the pattern of late for a team laden with talent that can’t quite seem to gel. The Clippers have made the playoffs six seasons in a row, twice under former head coach Vinny Del Negro and four straight years with Doc Rivers calling the plays. But a team that seems forever destined to be LaLa Land’s second NBA franchise, even when the Lakers are horrible (as they have been and seemingly will continue to be for some time), manages to find a way to implode come April and May.

Yet while we might empathize, the travails of a west coast team and its faithful followers is not something that New England fans of the Boston Celtics would normally track. But this year the Clippers dismissal from the NBA’s postseason tournament had special significance for Celtics fans. For when the final horn sounded at the Staples Center Sunday afternoon, it marked not just the end of the Clippers season, but also the end of Paul Pierce’s career.

It’s possible that casual or perhaps recent fans of the NBA might not appreciate the importance of the player nicknamed “The Truth” to fans in New England. Like many players, Pierce spent the tail end of his career as something of an itinerant, stopping in Brooklyn for a year and Washington for another before reuniting with his old coach Rivers for two final seasons in Los Angeles. It was a period when his skills were manifestly in decline. He averaged 13.5 points a game with the Nets, then 11.9 with the Wizards, and finally just 5.8 with the Clippers. This season he appeared in only twenty-five games, coming off the bench in all but seven.

But Paul Pierce was not always a 39-year old in the twilight of his career. Once he was a McDonald’s All-American as a high school student, and twice the MVP of the Big-12 Conference tournament during his three years at Kansas. Entering the NBA Draft after his junior season, Pierce was the tenth overall pick in 1998. After growing up in southern California and dreaming of playing for the Lakers, he was drafted by L.A.’s arch-rival, the Boston Celtics.

Although only 21-years old, Pierce immediately took on a major role in Boston’s lineup. In his lockout-shortened rookie season he started forty-seven of the Celtics fifty games. The franchise had been dormant since the end of the Larry Bird era. When Pierce arrived, Boston has missed the playoffs three straight years and hadn’t made it past the first round in six.

By his third season he was averaging more than twenty points a game, and in his fourth he almost single-handedly carried the Celtics not just back to the postseason but all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. While Boston would fall to the heavily favored New Jersey Nets in six games, Pierce had his team briefly ahead in the series, thanks to a memorable performance in Game Three. The C’s were getting blown out, trailing by twenty-one entering the final twelve minutes. But in that last quarter, as the cheers of the home crowd grew ever louder, Pierce scored nineteen of his twenty-eight total points for the game. Boston began the quarter with an 11-0 run, with seven of the points coming from Pierce’s hand. The Celtics closed with a similar 10-0 burst, with Pierce contributing eight. His nineteen fourth quarter points outscored the entire New Jersey squad by three.

While Pierce’s Celtics became a solid team, he didn’t have sufficient support up and down the rest of the roster to go all the way until general manager Danny Ainge engineered a pair of 2007 trades that brought Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston. In an earlier era, Bird, Kevin McHale and Robert Parish had been known as “The Big Three,” so the Pierce-Garnett-Allen triumvirate naturally became “The New Big Three.” Ainge’s moves paid immediate dividends, with the Celtics winning the team’s first championship in more than two decades in 2008. Pierce was the MVP of the Finals.

In fifteen seasons in Boston, Pierce scored 24,021 points, an average of 21.8 per game. A ten-time All-Star while playing on Causeway Street, he is the team’s all-time leader in 3-pointers, free throws and steals, and ranks second behind John Havlicek in points.

It is entirely fair to say that Pierce also contributed greatly to Boston’s current success. By agreeing to waive his no-trade clause and convincing Garnett to be part of the deal, Pierce enabled GM Ainge to put together the 2013 draft day trade that sent them to Brooklyn in exchange for a lengthy list of draft picks extending all the way to 2018. Ainge’s stockpile of draft selections has allowed him to build the team that finished first in the Eastern Conference this season without having a dominant big man, and thanks to the woeful state of the Nets, Boston has the top, twenty-five percent chance of winning the lottery for the first overall pick in next month’s draft, and is guaranteed to pick no later than fourth.

In a radio interview on Thursday Celtics’ managing partner Wyc Grousbeck announced that Pierce would be “the last number 34 ever for the Celtics.” Prior to some future game at TD Garden, Pierce will sign a one-day contract, retire as a member of the Celtics, and then see his jersey hoisted to the rafters. There it will join the numbers of greats from other eras, all members of the most accomplished NBA franchise.

The 2001 NBA championship was won by the Lakers and their dominant tandem of Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. That year’s Celtics team, still building around their young star, didn’t make the playoffs. The two squads met in March, with the Lakers winning 112-107. Paul Pierce scored forty-two points in that game, very nearly willing his team to victory over a team that was on its way to the second of three straight titles. After the game, O’Neal approached a reporter and said, “Take this down. My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is The Truth.” O’Neal was right of course. In Boston, fans already knew just how right Shaq was.

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Responses

  1. Nice.


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