If you’re a Celtics fan born from the time Larry Bird called it quits in 1992 to say, 2000, then Paul Pierce is your favorite player in the NBA. This isn’t left up for opinion; if he isn’t then you’re just wrong. Paul Pierce, drafted 10th overall by the Boston Celtics in 1998, has decided to retire at the conclusion of the 2016-2017 NBA season.
The 10 time All-Star by way of Kansas was drafted to a Celtics team in 1998 with no real identity. They only finished above .500 one time after Bird retired in ’92 to the time Pierce was drafted, making the playoffs only twice and losing in the first round of the playoffs each time. In the ’01-’02 season, Pierce’s fourth year in the league, they were back in the playoffs for the first time in seven years. Paul led the team that year in scoring with 26.1 PPG and led the Celtics to the Conference Finals before losing to the New Jersey Nets in 6 games. Despite a disappointing finish to the season, the Celtics had the largest fourth quarter comeback in NBA playoff history by coming back from a 21-point deficit. Paul Pierce had 19 points in that quarter, and so began his cementation as a legitimate force in the NBA, making his first All-Star appearance earlier that year.
Even so, Pierce never found himself on a Championship team. After losing to the Nets, the Celtics made the postseason the three following years, losing in the Conference Semifinals once and the first round twice. In the ’05-’06 and ’06-’07 seasons, the Celtics missed the playoffs all together. Pierce still averaged 26.8 and 25 PPG respectively in those two seasons under new head coach, Doc Rivers. Statistically, the ’05-’06 season was Pierce’s best season of his career as he also averaged a near career high 6.7 rebounds and 4.7 assists. This was partially a testament to the lack of weapons around Pierce leading to the necessity of more dominance from “The Truth,” a moniker given to Paul by legend, Shaquille O’Neil. But after missing the postseason for two straight years, Danny Ainge had seen enough.
In the offseason following the ’06-’07 season, Ainge began to talk to the Minnesota Timberwolves to trade for now recently retired, Kevin Garnett. Garnett, however, had a no-trade clause that he was not willing to waive to go to the Boston Celtics. But then Ainge acquired the sharpshooting Ray Allen before the draft from the Seattle Supersonics. This was all Garnett needed to see to give Boston a shot, and now the Boston Celtics had a new big three for the upcoming 2007-2008 season in Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett, and Paul Pierce.
It didn’t take long for the big three to get acclimated. In just their first season together, they finished with 66 wins—1st in the Eastern Conference. It took 7 games in each of their first two round against the Atlanta Hawks and Cleveland Cavilers. Game 7 of the Cavs series was a staple game in Paul Pierce’s career. Trading blows back and forth for four quarters, Paul Pierce and LeBron James were going toe–to-toe in a barnburner of a game. Pierce finished with 41 points to LeBron’s 45, and the Celtics bested the Cavilers 97-92. They then advanced to the NBA finals to play the Los Angeles Lakers after defeating the Detroit Pistons in 6.
It was a storybook ending to a storybook season. The two most storied franchises in NBA history going head to head for the first time since the Bird-Magic days. It took 6 games and the Celtics won their first NBA Championship since 1986. Paul Pierce won Finals MVP with a line of 21.8/4.5/6.3 through the six games. As Pierce’s teammate and friend, Kevin Garnett exclaimed, “Anything is possible!”
Since game 6 of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce’s career has been more of a struggle to win it all. The Celtics made the Finals again two years later, this time losing to the Lakers in 7 games. Then, after losing in the first round of the playoffs in 2013, it was the end of an era. Danny Ainge traded Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and others to the Brooklyn Nets. Though still productive, Pierce and Garnett were aged and another championship just wasn’t foreseeable for the duo. It was time to move on and Ainge made the move that is still paying off for the Celtics to this day.
The trade clearly left Paul Pierce in shock and even sadness. Even more devastating for Celtics fans was the monotone press conference from Pierce, followed by a photo opt of him holding up a black and white Brooklyn jersey deeming no. 34. He averaged 13.5 ppg during his year in Brooklyn where he clearly just didn’t feel at home, the lowest points per game in his career. It was most evident Pierce didn’t feel at home in Brooklyn when the Nets played the C’s for the first time in 2013 at the Boston Garden. A press conference with KG and him showed them both sitting there timidly, giving soft answers, showing nothing but the most love for the city of Boston. Garnett did most of the talking while Pierce stared blankly ahead, seemingly fighting back tears. Hell just writing about it has me fighting back tears. And Paul later admitted his time in Brooklyn was horrible, but seemed to find solace the next year as a Washington Wizard.
The Wizards, with the backcourt tandem of the explosive John Wall and sharpshooting Bradley Beal, lost the Conference Semis while Paul Pierce was playing in Brooklyn. Pierce couldn’t help the Wizards get over that hump, finishing with the 5th seed in the East, the same as the previous year, and again losing the Conference Semifinals. Pierce did, however, add intensity and quite frankly, balls to their playoff run. Pierce hit a game winning shot as time expired against the Hawks in Game 3 of the Semis. When ESPN analyst, Chris Brousard, asked him if he called bank, Pierce famously, and badass-edly replied, “I called game.” Oh how I missed that intensity and clutchness of Paul Pierce. Pierce also hit a go ahead shot late in Game 6 before a defensive breakdown from the Wizards’ big men let the Hawks get an easy 2 points to take lead and the series. And so ended Paul Pierce’s tenure in the nation’s capital, where he finished the season continuing his decline, averaging just under 12 points per game and a then career low 26.2 minutes.
The 2015 offseason was exciting with Pierce news. We knew he wasn’t going back to the Wizards, and in the twilight it only seemed fitting for him to come back to Boston for one more year and finish where he started. Unfortunately this was not the case. Pierce signed a 3 year deal with the Los Angeles Clippers. Though disappointed, I couldn’t be mad at his decision to go to Los Angeles, for that is where he grew up and he got to play under Doc Rivers whom he won with in 2008. His role in LA was limited, getting just a shade over 18 minutes per game and 6.1 points per game. He clearly isn’t the same the player he was in Boston. Nobody is at the age of 38. But it has been an absolute pleasure watching Paul Pierce play basketball for as long as I’ve been able to form a memory.
He will play his final season as a Clipper. I’m sure many Celtics fans wish he’d play his last season in the Green, and I get that. A part of me does too. But it just doesn’t make sense. Pierce just isn’t a productive NBA player like he once was. Father time has caught up to him after over 1300 games, 1102 of them as a Celtic (not including postseason). He brought a basketball championship to the city of Boston; a feat not done since Larry Bird played on the parquet of the old Garden. Though his playing days in Boston are over, his time is not. He is still a part of the community and as Doc Rivers has said, Paul Pierce will retire a Celtic. We will see him in green one more time when he signs a one-day contract with the Celtics at the conclusion of the season. Goodbye Paul Pierce, and Thank You.