It takes a special kind of player to be considered a legendary figure in Boston Celtics’ history. Players like Larry Bird, Bill Russell and John Havlicek were more than just great players. They were dedicated, unselfish and most importantly, loyal. It doesn’t matter what type of numbers are accumulated throughout a career, a championship is a necessity to be considered a Celtic for life. Paul Pierce is undoubtedly among the Celtics’ greats, but it took him many years to get to that level.
Despite being one of the best scorers in the NBA, Pierce, being on a bad team, never demanded a trade or took his talents to South Beach. He remained committed to the Celtics and he finally reaped the benefits of his loyalty when Danny Ainge surrounded him with the championship caliber team he deserved. Of course, Pierce’s journey began well before that.
The 10th pick in the 1998 NBA draft, Pierce’s combination of skills were merely a prelude to his greatness. Before Pierce became a champion and a Finals MVP, he had a lot of growing up to do in the league. The 2002 scoring champion had a reputation of being a ball-dominant, selfish player.
Pierce was a “punk”, for lack of a better term, who only cared about his individual achievements. He lost his cool on the court often and disrespected his opponents. The 2005 playoffs was a microcosm of what type of person he was. In Game 6 of the first round against the Indiana Pacers, Pierce received his second technical foul in a one-point game with just a few seconds left in regulation. He was escorted off the court, immaturely waving his jersey in his hand.
It was yet another example of Pierce looking out for his own personal interests, rather than the interests of the team. However, it is unfair to solely rip Pierce for his controversial antics on the court. “The Truth” came through in many other important games. In 2002, Pierce carried the Celtics on his back. He averaged 24.6 points in the playoffs, including a 46-point outing against the Philadelphia 76ers to clinch their first playoff series since 1992.
Pierce led the C’s all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where he led one of the biggest comebacks in NBA playoff history. The Celtics were down by 22 in Game 3 against the New Jersey Nets and Pierce scored 19 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter and the Celtics won the game 94-90. In the 2003 playoffs, Pierce averaged 27.1 points per contest, proving he was truly a big game player.
His step-back and pull up jumpers became his signature moves, shots he was able to execute with ease. Pierce was fearless, he wanted the ball in his hands. Numerous game winning shots were recorded on his resume. His fearlessness was extremely evident when going up against the great LeBron James the last few seasons. The Truth scored at will and he never shied away from the big moment. He was a true franchise player, but just needed to clean up his act.
Perhaps being on a bad team for four straight years gave Pierce a wake-up call, or maybe it was the fact his name kept coming up in trade rumors around 2006 and 2007. Whatever it was, many doubted Pierce could carry the Celtics to the next level. Boston lived in mediocrity for so many years, so maybe it was time to move on from the “ball hog” who couldn’t buy into a team concept.
After having the worst record in the league in 2007, Ainge acquired stars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to form the “Big Three” with captain Paul Pierce. Garnett’s leadership and intensity, coupled with Allen’s calm demeanor, helped mold Pierce into the player he is today.
Somewhere along the line, Pierce got it, he understood what it took to be part of a team. He willingly sacrificed for the team and wore that Celtic uniform with pride by buying into a team effort.
Pierce’s coming of age journey ultimately led to a championship in 2008 in which he became the Finals MVP. The mix of the Big Three’s talents brought many other opportunities later on. It was an exciting era with Pierce in the driver’s seat. He is now in the class with Bird and Russell as a Celtic legend. He will forever be a Celtic.