We’ve referred to Paul Pierce as “the Hemingway Celtic” at times, because Pierce, to a large degree in his early career, was a Celtic great who suffered.
It was nearly 10 years from Pierce’s draft day (June 24, 1998) until he celebrated his first NBA title (June 18, 2008.)
In between came a couple of playoff series victories in 2002 and 2003 — but mostly, a lot of losing. The Celtics from 1998 through the end of the 2006-2007 season won a total of 321 games to go with 385 losses. This culminated in a 24-58 mark in 2006-2007 in which Pierce missed 25 games due to injury.
No one likes to talk about the night of September 25, 2000, and certainly not celebrate it. And yet, it some way, it symbolizes and summarizes Pierce’s decade of agony as a Boston Celtic. Without it, he wouldn’t have overcome so much.
So you have to mention it. It’s at the core of his greatness.
10. The attack.
On September 25, 2000, Pierce was stabbed 11 times, mostly in the face and neck, in the pool room of a now-shuttered Boston night club.
“The way I’ve always understood it,” Amos Barshad wrote later, “Pierce was getting the attention of the ladies in the house that night, which sparked the argument. A group of guys took offense, and attacked him; he was hit over the head with a bottle and stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back.”
It’s hard to call being stabbed a “great moment.” Pierce’s determined rehabilitation from the near-fatal incident, though, had him back on the court with remarkable speed. He was missed a total of zero games that season. He raised his scoring average to 25.3 points a game, and set the stage for a Celtic return to the playoffs a year later.
9. The finale
We started with a very painful incident at the start of his career; it seems rather symmetrical to continue with a more pleasant moment from the end.
Pierce had not scored in a little more than four minutes of play in the February 5 Clippers-Celtics game. Everyone knew it was likely to be his last appearance in Boston. As he checked back in with less than a minute to play, the Garden crowd also knew what was coming. After all, this was Paul Pierce.
Pierce’s crowd-pleasing 3 drew one of several standing ovations he enjoyed during the night. Even veteran teammates like Blake Griffin were impressed by the Boston crowd’s response to the Celtic great.
Indeed, Pierce later hinted that the Boston faithful’s torrent of applause that night had Griffin interested in coming east during the 2017 off-season.
The love affair is mutual, even for a man raised in L.A. who rooted for the Lakers until draft day in 1998.
“Paul had a chance to leave us when we were bad,” Doc Rivers commented after the game. “And instead of moaning that he wanted to go to a championship team, he stayed. And he said, ‘I simply want to be a Celtic and I trust that we’re going to win a title some day.’ ”
“He had no reason to believe that, at that time. I mean, we were pretty awful. I do think it’s special that Paul Pierce decided that he wanted to be a Celtic for his life. And I think that’s pretty cool.”
8. Harrington to school
One season after losing to the Nets in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Celtics played to a workmanlike 44-38 record and the #6 seed in the east.
They faced a still-strong Indiana Pacers team — with a core group that had been to the finals in 2000, and featuring Reggie Miller, Jermaine O’Neal, Brad Miller and Ron Artest — in the first round.
Few expected them to give the Pacers much trouble, but the Celtics took a 2-1 series lead into Game Four.
That’s when Pierce hit one of his more notable buzzer-beaters, right in the face of Al Harrington.
7. The year of living KG-less-ly: Game 5 vs. Chicago
In 2009, the Celtics went into the playoffs without their top defender, and spiritual leader, Kevin Garnett.
A repeat title without KG just wasn’t in the cards, though the Celtics did push the eventual Eastern Conference champions, Orlando, to six games.
But the first-round 7-game series against the Bulls, which featured a total of seven overtime periods, will be long-remembered by fans of both teams as a playoff classic.
Pierce hit the dagger in game 5.
It wasn’t a game-winning shot or a classic hustle play.
Nevertheless, Pierce’s draft-day tweet celebrating Boston’s claiming the #1 pick in the NBA draft makes it onto our list of his GOAT-est Celtic moments.
It showed where his heart lies.
This is a guy who still bleeds green.