On September 25, 2000 Paul Pierce was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck and back and had to undergo lung surgery after trying to separate two brawling people at a Boston nightclub. Sounds like something that might make you miss a couple of games right?
Nope. Pierce went on to play all 82 games of the 2000-2001 season, put in career highs, up to that point in his career, in points (25.3 ppg) rebounds (5.9 rpg) and assists (3.2 apg) and dragged a Boston Celtics team that started the immortal Bryant Stith in 74 games to a 36-46 record, narrowly missing the playoffs. So when someone says Paul Pierce has shed his blood, sweat and tears for the Celtics its not just a metaphor.
In an era where athletes come and go, have hour long, glorified press conferences and stick it to their hometown fans or hold their team hostage during the regular season until they are forced to trade, Pierce has been a mainstay for just a single team. Last night he scored 15 points, which might seem like nothing, but in doing so he passed Larry Bird on the Celtics all-time scoring list.
It’s been a rough road here. The team limped to some playoff success in the early 2000s but was never really able to make a deep run except for a trip to the Eastern Conference finals in 2002. Through all those years Pierce carried teams filled with players like Raef LaFrentz, Walter McCarty, the incredible shrinking and expanding Antoine Walker, an almost dead Gary Payton and who could forget Tom Gugliotta. Somehow they made the playoffs in four straight seasons and without Pierce its tough to imagine them winning even 15 games.
Then there was the horrific 2006-07 season. The Celtics stumbled, no I’m sorry stumble means they still managed to move forward. The Celtics collapsed to a 24-58 record in what was one of the worst years in sports for the city of Boston in recent years (Sox missed the playoffs, Patriots lost to arch rival Colts in AFC title game and the Bruins came in last in it’s division). Rumors flew that it was time for Pierce to go and with the Celtics having what seemed to be a sure lottery pick, fans certainly were ready for a fresh start with a new franchise player to build around.
But then the Celtics missed out on not only the top spot but the top four spots in the 2007 draft meaning there was no Kevin Durant or Greg Oden coming to clean things up. Instead the Celtics got Ray Allen and a month later landed Kevin Garnett and the Boston Big Three was born. So it wasn’t all bad.
During the 2007-08 season it was Garnett that got the acclaim, the accolades and the praise for bringing a new mindset focused on defense to Boston and was the driving force behind the teams run to the NBA Title. However in the playoffs it was Pierce who again and again pushed the Celtics over the edge. It was Pierce who Garnett deferred to as the captain. It was Pierce who pulled, pushed and forced Boston to its first title since, you guessed it, Larry Bird was playing the forward spot. In Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals Pierce outdueled LeBron James in a game reminiscent of the Bird-Wilkins showdown in 1988. In the finals Pierce took it to Kobe Bryant and outplayed the Black Mamba, who was largely considered the best of the last decade and took home the Finals MVP award.
Since the NBA title Pierce has continued to be the most important player for the Celtics. Rondo has been the flashy up-and-comer, Allen hit a milestone last year and Garnett still pushes the defense but without Pierce this team isn’t even close to as good as its been in the last four years.
The title to me put Pierce in the discussion as one of the top Celtics ever. To me he’s the third best to ever don the Green and White and play on the thatched wood floor. Bill Russell is obviously the top and he’s followed closely by Larry Legend. Some might argue with me and say Havlicek was better. Havlicek is the Celtics all-time leading scorer but he got to play with Russell and Cousy early in his career and then got Hall of Famer Dave Cowens on the later half of his career. Not exactly Ricky Davis and Tony Battie.
I’ve watched Pierce through all of this and I can unequivocally say he is not only my favorite Celtic or Boston athlete but my favorite athlete ever. His ability to get to the rim, his step back shot from the right wing that is untouchable, the mean-mugging scowl he gives after a big dunk or a game winner. Speaking of game winners, how many times has Pierce had the ball in his hand at the end of the game and put a dagger in the other teams heart. Everyone knows whats coming. He bends over and does these slow crossovers at the top of the key. Then he does a hesitation head fake and slides to the right and jabs forward with his left foot. The defender is momentarily stunned and Pierce steps back with his right and with a small jumping fade away launches his shot. I’ve seen him do it a thousand times it seems. His ability in the clutch is unreal and to me he’s behind only Kobe as the best isolation closer in basketball in the last decade.
But mostly it’s the loyalty he’s shown throughout his career. Going out night after night and just battling and leaving everything on the hardwood. I’ve watched him for 14 years and I’ve never felt like he sold out, gave up or didn’t give it all he had.
Last night I watched him knock down a three pointer and now he is the second highest scorer in Boston Celtics history. Something tells me it won’t be the last time he scores in his Celtics #34 jersey. In fact you might have to rip it off of him first.
Where does Paul Pierce rank among the greatest Celtics ever? Will Pierce catch Havlicek? Let us know what you think about the Truth on Twitter (@seeuinoctober) or in the comments.