Paul Pierce won’t be on any of your “All-Time Teams” lists. He never even finished Top 3 in MVP voting. But good lord was he iconic, and pretty dang good at basketball. Consistency was key with Paul. He just kept scoring, making game winning shots, and hitting game winners. He’s “The Truth” and he will be missed more than you know right now. Paul, Vince Carter and Dirk are the last of one of the more fun NBA eras we’ve seen, and they could all be done this year. Looking back, these moments are what I think of when I think of Paul Pierce.
- Coming back from 11 stabbings
- Hawks game winner
- Wizards game winner
- Heat game winner
- Lakers comeback
- Nets comeback
- Rivalry with Lebron
- Putting 50 on Lebron
- Passing Bird in scoring list
- Ring ceremony
- Two Phones
- The 🚀 Tweet
6. Birth of “The Truth”
Most iconic players have stupid cool nicknames such as Michael “Air” Jordan, Earvin “Magic” Johnson and LeBron “King” James. Paul Pierce also has a great nickname that was given to him by one of the game’s legends, Shaquille O’Neal. It took place in 2001 during a time when the Celtics were still pretty terrible and Pierce’s game was still developing. Boston was facing the then-world champion Los Angeles Lakers, who would eventually go on to repeat as champs.
However, Paul made his presence felt in a breakout performance against them. He scored 42 points on just 19 shot attempts in one of the most efficient games of his career. Pierce added six rebounds and four steals in a game where the Celtics pushed the Lakers to the brink before the world champions came out on top.
After the game, O’Neal said,
“Write this down. Paul Pierce is the motherf***ing truth. Knew the kid could play, didn’t know he could play like that. Don’t take anything out of it, Paul Pierce is the truth.”
At the time, Shaq was the best player on the planet, defending league MVP and soon to be back-to-back Finals MVP. Therefore, the praise was of the highest order and a huge confidence boost for Pierce. He went on to average 28.2 points in the final 19 games that season and scored over 40 in three contests.
The night that Shaq anointed Pierce with the nickname, it allowed him to make the leap from a promising player to a franchise cornerstone. It’s definitely one of the best and most marketable career moments for him.
5. The Wheelchair Game
Just about every other franchise in the NBA sees this moment as a reason to ridicule Pierce, but for Celtics fans, Mike Breen’s call of “And hear the ovation as he comes hopping back out of the tunnel!” is still one of the best moments of his career, especially given the panic that preceded it.
Was he actually hurt? Who knows, but when he returned to the game, Celtics fans felt like they were in good hands. Pierce buried a pair of huge 3-pointers and led Boston to the victory in Game 1.
4. 46 in one half
Another one from the way back files took place on December 1st, 2001. The Celtics were on their way to their first playoff appearance since 1995, but no one knew that at the time. They had started the season 7-6, and were taking on the 10-5 New Jersey Nets, who had suddenly morphed into a really good team with Jason Kidd in town.
In the first half, Pierce was awful. As in 1-for-16 from the field awful. He had two points, and the Celtics were down 47-33.
And then the second half started, and Pierce got as hot as he’s ever been, with 46 in the second half alone. Had Pierce had even a decent shooting first half he may have gone for 65. Instead he had to “settle” for a then career high 48, and a gutsy overtime win in New Jersey.
Final second-half stat line: 46 points, 12-18 FG, 5-5 3 PT, 17-18 FT
3. The Mental Execution of Al Harrington
Perhaps the most underrated Pierce moment of all-time occurred during the somewhat forgotten 2003 playoff run.
A year after advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics were disappointing during the 2002-03 regular season, finishing 44-38 and entering the playoffs as the 6-seed.
Once in the post-season, the Celts took on a good, young Pacers team just a year away from winning over 60 games. They were not expected to win.
But Pierce went off, averaging 26/9/6 in the six game series win, including 40 points in a Game 1 win in Indiana.
But it was his Game 4 performance at the Garden that will always stick out. 37 points, 10 rebounds, 7 assists, and one absolute dagger to the heart of Indiana.
The Celtics led the series 2-1, and Indiana was on the ropes. Teams just don’t come back from 3-1 series deficits, and the Cs were, for all intents and purposes, attempting to finish them off.
The game was tied at 62 apiece when Pierce put it in high gear. The Celtics went on a 15-2 run, with #34 scoring all 15 points. The cherry on top? With the clock running down in the 3rd quarter, Pierce began jawing with Al Harrington at the top of the key. Pierce was just standing there, squawking back and forth with Harrington while keeping one eye on the shot clock. And then, from about 26-feet out, he launched his patented off-balance “this should not go in” three from the wing. Splash. Game over. Series over.
2. “I called game!”
It hurts me that this wasn’t as a Celtic, but it was so iconic and the definition of a true Paul Pierce play. The greatest on court post game interview ever. Also, that’s why he was there.
1. Finals MVP
As great as 1998-2007 Pierce was, he was not considered an all-time Celtics great for one simple reason: He didn’t have a title. Every other all-time great Celtic did, and to be considered a top ten player in franchise history Pierce needed his ring.
Once Garnett and Ray Allen joined him in Boston, it was clear he’d have his chance. The 2007-08 team was record setting, winning 66 games and outscoring their opponents by the widest margin since the 1998 Bulls.
But come playoff time, they were a little off. They took seven games to finish off the Hawks and Cavs, with Pierce needing to play hero in Game 7 vs Cleveland as we just discussed.
Even after beating the Pistons in the Conference Finals, public sentiment had swayed. The Lakers, who had gone 12-3 in the playoffs to win the West, were suddenly favorites, despite the fact that the Celtics would have home court.
Playing his hometown team with his legacy on the line, Pierce again came up big. He averaged 22/6/5, and helped hold Kobe Bryant to just 40% shooting on the other side of the ball.
Pierce had better series in his career, but never a more important one. Either him or KG could have won Finals MVP and no one would have complained, but Pierce got the nod, cementing his place in Celtics history.