Thursday, November 4, 2010

How Paul Pierce Became My Favorite Celtic Ever.

We all know the story by now. How the highly regarded Kansas Jayhawk dropped from the top 5 because of drafting for position, player promises, and that old luck of the irish. In head coach/GM Rick Pitino’s four years as Don of The Boston Celtics many would say he only made one good decision, and it couldn’t have been a tough one. Immediately after The 1998 NBA Draft reports were flying out that Boston caught the steal of the draft. Boston was buzzing.

Michael Holly reported:

"Lester Conner, the Celtics' newest assistant coach, had raved about Pierce to Pitino. He told the coach he and Magic Johnson -- who works out with Pierce in Los Angeles -- always said Pierce would be an All-Star. They said Michael Olowokandi, who was taken first by the Clippers, would be a fine pro. But Pierce wouldn't be far behind.”

On February 5th, 1999 --after four months lost to the lockout-- Paul Pierce made his grand debut in Boston. He scored 19 points on 7 for 14 shooting, including 2 for 4 from long distance. The rookie would stuff the line with 9 boards, 5 assists, 2 steals, and 4 blocks. But despite the 21 Year-Old’s effort, Boston was embarrassed in a 11 point loss that was worse than the score would indicate. Vince Carter and The Raptors obliterated Boston on the boards 54 to 27. "I waited seven months for this season to start and I never thought it would get here,” said Pierce "I wish things were a little different, but it is only one game and there are 49 to go.”

Paul’s biggest game as a rookie would come nearly 3 months later. With Antoine Walker out, the rookie led Boston to a victory over the heavily favored Miami Heat. Pierce would lead all scorers with 31 points along with 3 blocks, 2 assists, and 5 boards. Despite being a sub. 500 squad for the year, the Celtics were 3-0 against The Miami Heat. Pat Riley’s team was known for it’s defense, and it’s defense was very good. Out of the 50 games played that year Miami had allowed over 100 points just five times, the top two of those came from Boston. The Celtics weren’t a playoff team, but the seeds were being planted.

After failing to make The Playoffs for the next 2 seasons, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics were starting to make some serious noise, and it was being noticed. Both Pierce and teammate Antoine Walker were selected as 2002 NBA All-Stars --an honor that Celtic Coach Jim O’Brien felt was deserved one year earlier-- nevertheless Paul was very pleased to be with considered among the NBA’s elite. "This is a place where I feel I belong,” Pierce said while addressing the media, “I hope this is just the first of many.”

On May 3rd, 2002 Paul Pierce would lead The Boston Celtics to the first playoff series victory since Larry Bird’s clutch comeback against the Pacers in ’91. Pierce would absolute destroy Allen Iverson and the 76ers to the tune of 46 points on 16 of 25 shooting, including a dazzling 8 of 10 from deep. The Celtics would go on to beat the Detroit Pistons in 5 before losing in the Eastern Conference Finals to Jason Kidd and The Nets. Despite not making The Finals, Boston had made it well beyond expectations. It was clear that Paul Pierce had grown into a superstar, and the 2002 NBA Playoffs cemented it.

Expectations were high going into the 2002 regular season, perhaps a little too high. Despite the presence of All-Stars Paul Pierce and Antoine Walker, Boston lost key veteran contributors like Rodney Rogers, Kenny Anderson, and Erick Strickland. With no real additions O’Brien was forced to spread minutes between a much weaker bench. The 02-03 Celtics were a much slower paced team than the year before, they also shot more three’s at a lesser percentage, simply put Boston just didn’t have the scoring to compete in the Playoffs against New Jersey. They were swept in the second round.

After a first round defeat in 2004, Doc Rivers was called in as Boston’s new head coach. The 04-05 season would see big changes made in Boston’s core. Rookies Al Jefferson and Tony Allen would see minutes along with veteran additions Gary Payton and Raef Lafrentz. Ricky Davis would finally find a home in Boston as he finished as one of the league’s top 6th men. But The Boston Celtics would still ride the back of their captain as Pierce would score 20 or more in 50 games that season, he’d finish with 17 double-doubles, and 2 triple doubles. General Manager Danny Ainge would re-acquire Antoine Walker at the trade deadline in an effort reload for the playoffs. But despite the addition of 3 time All-Star, Boston went on to lose in game 7 at home versus Indiana. The Pacers blew out Boston holding them to 39 percent shooting, It would be Antoine Walker’s last game as a Celtic.

Two years of disappointment would go by for Pierce and The Celtics. The combination of injuries and lack of experience would equal out to 57 wins over 2 seasons, Paul Pierce was starting to get sick of losing. After failing to get the #1 overall pick in 2007 the city of Boston was beginning to lose hope with it’s legendary franchise, but after a couple draft day trades Danny Ainge turned around the Celtics fortunes. Boston was buzzing again. The arrival of Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett turned the Celtics into an instant contender, and Paul Pierce couldn’t have been happier.

The 2007 Celtics would complete the best turnaround in NBA history, going from 22 wins to 66 gave them the league’s best record. Paul Pierce was happy again, and despite sharing the rock, he still right at 20 points per game. In February ’08 The Celtics sent three players to the All-Star Game for the first time since Bird, McHale, and Parish in 1991. But the real fun would start in the playoffs.

On May 18th Paul Pierce would reintroduce his dominance to the NBA Playoffs. It’s game 7, in Boston, with one of the games best scorers lining up against him. Unlike Iverson’s 76ers six years prior, Lebron would compete. Paul and James would match each other shot for shot and it was close down the stretch, but with Pierce at the line late in the fourth quarter he’d clinch the game and his 2nd trip to the Eastern Conference Finals.

After defeating Detroit, Pierce would finally make it to The NBA Finals. Facing the team he grew up loving, Paul would unleash his fury upon Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers. Averaging 22 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists per game, he would lead Boston to victory in only 6 games, including a comeback win from 24 points down. Following the 131-92 game 6 massacre, Paul Pierce would be name MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals. In his speech he would appear extremely emotional, shouting out to the city of Boston for sticking with him through all the hard times, “10 long years, blood, sweat, and tears!”

Over the past 3 seasons Boston has continued to be ranked as one of the leagues major contenders. With Paul’s 20,000th point on Wednesday night he would prove what was already known by most, The Truth is one of the greatest players in The Boston Celtics storied history. At 33 years old Pierce appears to be in the best shape in years, and with Rajon Rondo breaking assist records he’s getting more open looks than he’s ever seen. In all likelihood Paul will be selected to his 9th All-Star selection, and as he said back in ’02, that’s a place where he feels he belongs.

If all goes according to plan Paul Pierce will retire his #34 jersey in 2014. By that time he should be somewhere around 25,000 points, putting him as one of the league’s top 15 scorers… not bad for a kid that barely got picked in the top 10 of his draft.

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