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The Moment for Truth
As a rookie, he went through the impatient changes of Rick Pitino. He led an overachieving team to the playoffs in 2002 when the Celtics jumped out to a 2-1 series lead over the New Jersey Nets after pulling off one of the greatest comeback games in playoff history, but would eventually fall to the Nets 4-2. He then saw Danny Ainge come in and immediately blow up the team, causing a faction of Celtic Nation to dub Ainge, Danny Panic.
The Nation was also sympathetic for the Truth when the franchise came in dead last place in the ’06-’07 season and were thrown in the lottery with hopes of obtaining the #1 pick and securing the coveted Greg Oden. Pierce also saw those hopes shattered when the Celtics slipped to No. 5 in the ’07 draft. Some requested the Celts do Pierce a solid and deal him to a contender while he was still in his prime.
When he first stepped on the parquet floors of what was formerly known as the Fleet Center, Pierce was just a 20-year-old kid from Inglewood, CA drafted out of the University of Kansas in 1998, insulted that he was the 10th overall player picked. After walking into the Fleet Center for the first time, Pierce was quickly immersed in Celtics tradition and pride, and immediately began to work on his game, calling out the names of the teams who chose not to draft him.
- Los Angeles Clippers (Michael Olowokandi)
- Vancouver now Memphis Grizzlies (Mike Bibby)
- Denver Nuggets (Raef LaFrentz)
- Toronto Raptors traded to Golden State (Antawn Jamison)
- Golden State Warriors traded to Toronto (Vince Carter)
- Dallas Mavericks traded to Milwaukee(Robert Traylor)
- Sacramento Kings (Jason Williams)
- Philadelphia 76ers (Larry Hughes)
- Milwaukee Bucks traded to Dallas (Dirk Nowitzski)
Now Pierce shares something with the likes of John Hondo Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Cornbread Cedric Maxwell and Larry Legend: the Most Valuable Player of the NBA Finals
**With apologies to Bill Russell, the award was first given in 1969 after Russell had already won 10 championships. Mr. Clutch; the Logo; Jerry West, who averaged nearly 38 points in seven games, was given the inaugural award, becoming the first and only player to win the MVP of a Finals after losing the series.
But I digress.
Pierce, who averaged 21.8 points in the 2008 NBA Finals, was deservingly named the Most Valuable Player of the series, culminating his ten year career with the legendary Celtics.
“It feels so great, man,” told the Truth after Game 6 of the 2008 Finals. “Just to work so hard and for ten long years being with the Boston Celtics, just going through my ups and downs. Danny, Doc, ownership, guys sticking with me through tough times. This is what makes those other moments so sweet, knowing that you were at rock bottom a year ago today, and to climb all the way to the top, this is a dream come true. And I’m going to cherish this forever.”
Pierce may have only converted four of his 13 shots in the clinching Game 6, but the Celtics captain was able to find the open man throughout the deciding first half. Despite missing from the field, Pierce contributed 17 points in the 131-92 victory to give the Boston Celtics its 17th NBA Championship, the largest margin of victory in any NBA Finals series clinching game.
“It means everything,” Pierce continued. “You know, I’m not living under the shadows of the other greats now. I’m able to make my own history with my time here, and like I said, this is something that I wanted to do. If I was going to be one of the best Celtics to ever play, I had to put up a banner, and today we did that.”
Take a quick look back at what Pierce has done in the series and those who would’ve voted for someone else may change their mind. And while you reminisce, remember that Pierce contributed to Kobe Bryant’s 31.8 field goal percentage in Game 6 (7-for-22), and his 40% from the field in the six game series (53-for-131).
Game 1: After injuring his knee in the third quarter, Pierce returned in dramatic fashion, scoring 11 points after the injury, including two three-pointers. Pierce finished with 22 points on 7-for-10 from the field and 3-for-4 from beyond the arc as Boston took the first game of the series 98-88.
Game 2: Pierce had a shootout with Kobe Bryant (30 points), as the Truth’s 28 points led Boston and held off a Lakers comeback with a 108-102 victory. Pierce not only was 9-for-16 from the field, he also connected on all four of his shots from beyond the arc and was 6-for-7 from the line. He also contributed eight assists, four rebounds, a steal and a block shot as Boston headed to Los Angeles with a 2-0 lead.
Game 3: Although the Lakers played harder, were more physical and were more aggressive, the Celtics were better than them in the 87-81 loss in LA. Pierce’s knee injury from Game 1 may have been bothering him, as he shot 2-for-14 and ended the game with six points. After not playing well and still almost coming up with a win, Pierce was eager to play Game 4.
Game 4: Doc asked the team, “Do you believe?” And demanded, “Never stop believing!” Pierce led a scrappy, gritty, gut-checking comeback and Boston, after being down by as many as 24 points, stole the fourth game of the series with a 97-91 win…in LA. Pierce led the Cs with 20 points (6-for-13 from the field and 8-for-9 from the line) and seven assists. Immediately after Game 4, while walking back to the locker room, Pierce could be heard screaming, “That’s how you do it! That’s how you fight! One more! Let’s go! One more Cs!”
Game 5: Pierce’s 38 points were the third highest in a series Finals by a Celtic (John Hondo Havlicek has the first two with 42 and 40), but the Cs came up short as Kobe Bryant “made a great defensive play” when Pierce drove by Bryant off the high pick-and-roll. Bryant reached around Pierce from behind and knocked the ball from him, possibly fouling the Truth.. Pierce converted 16-of-19 free throws and had eight assists in the 103-98 loss.
Game 6. Pierce struggled early missing his first five shots before nailing an 18-foot, pull-up jumper with 36.7 seconds remaining in the opening frame to pull Boston to within four points (24-20). Despite having a subpar shooting performance Pierce finished Game 6 with a game-high 10 assists. The game started getting out of reach when the Celtics made an 11-0 run that was capped off when Paul Pierce recovered an errant dribble by Kobe Bryant, dribbled the length of the court to the left elbow with Bryant on him, and kicked it out to a wide open James Posey for Boston’s fifth three-pointer of the game, pushing their lead to 14 (43-29). And by that time, Pierce already had six assists and six points.
The 18,624 live witnesses collectively voiced their approval at Pierce’s decision making throughout Game 6, especially when he threaded a nice bounce pass between Pau Gasol and Luke Walton from the top of the three-point arc to Kevin Garnett, who finished the play with an incredible hanging in the air one-handed, double-pump in the lane for the and-1. KG converted the free throw to give Boston a 56-35 lead with 47.3 seconds remaining in the first half capping off a 23-6 run by the Gang Green. It was also Pierce’s ninth assist at the time to go with his 10 points.
“We put in hard work all the way from September, getting here early, going to Rome, staying together, the guys dropping their egos for the good of the team, sacrificing so much.”
“You guys look at Kevin, myself and Ray, we sacrificed so much of what we did throughout our careers to get to this point because we’ve done everything we’ve been able to do individually, won all type of awards, but never made it to the mountaintop, and today it’s like a breath of fresh air.”
And with 30 seconds left in the game Paul Pierce celebrated his induction into Celtic folklore by showering coach Doc Rivers with a container of red Gatorade. I asked him if it was a preconceived notion or something that was spur of the moment, and the Truth jokingly quipped, “Just from watching other sports and throughout the years, all the championships that were won. I was like, ‘Hey, what’s a championship without a splash of Gatorade.’
“I looked up, and nobody thought of it, so I said, ‘Hey, at the 4:00 mark we’re going to get him’ when I knew we had the game sealed. Just waiting for the right moment. It’s a tradition and I see it on TV all the time, so I decided to go do it.”
Tuesday’s win also marked the first time Boston was able to host a championship clinching game in all three major sports since 1984, which made it even more special to Pierce as he was able to win Banner 17 in front of many Celtics legends.
“Oh, it’s a great feeling, man, just knowing that these guys, what they accomplished and those things that hang over our head every day, and for us to go out there and make history in front of those guys. It means so much more because these are the guys, the Havliceks, the Bill Russells, the Cousys.”
“These guys started what’s going on today with those banners. They don’t hang up any other banners but championship ones, and now I’m a part of it. And just all the years talking to Bill (Russell) and John (Havlicek), (Bob) Cousy, finally just I feel like we’ve come out of that shadow now and created our own, and now we can stand up and look them eye to eye and say, hey, we accomplished it, too.”
Congratulations again to the captain Paul Pierce for accomplishing what you set out to do a decade ago. Not only is Celtic Nation proud of No. 34, a number that will one day hang from the rafters along with Banner 17, but the generations of Celtic legends are proud as well. After being the longest tenured Celtic without a championship ring, he truly is deserving of the award, the ring, the banner, and all the accolades that comes with them.
And that’s the Truth.