Well, this is new.
The Truth spent each of his previous 15 NBA seasons in Beantown sporting Celtic green, so his departure sent waves throughout the league. Boston's commitment to rebuilding was expected, but trading Pierce was still a shock, if only because picturing him in a different jersey was so difficult.
Now he's in that different jersey, no longer the face of the Celtics. Instead he's another opponent, suiting up for a new team and preparing to play in the most emotional preseason game we'll see this year.
How High Will Emotions Be Running?
Pretty darn high.
This isn't just any other team Pierce is facing or any other preseason game he is playing in. These are the Celtics. His team. Excuse me, his former team.
Fifteen years is a long, long time. Leaving Boston, even to contend for a championship, wasn't easy. The team took out a full-page ad in the Boston Globe to thank him and Kevin Garnett, and Pierce himself took to his Instagram upon being traded to reminisce. Playing against—not for—these Celtics is going to be difficult for a player once considered a lifer.
But don't think this one exhibition contest will be the end of it, because it won't even be close.
For one, the Celtics are traveling to Brooklyn. Pierce won't be walking into the TD Garden, his old stomping grounds, as a foe. He won't be playing in front of the very fans who spent the better part of two decades chanting his name.
When the Nets and Celtics square off on Oct. 23 in Boston, that will be a more emotional sight. On Jan. 26 in Beantown—during the regular season—it will be an even bigger spectacle. Returning to the city where he built his legacy will have a stronger emotional impact than hosting his former team in his new digs, especially when that team is barely recognizable.
These aren't the same Celtics Pierce played for. Not only are they rebuilding, but Rajon Rondo's injured, and Doc Rivers is coaching the Los Angeles Clippers. Familiar faces like Brandon Bass, Avery Bradley and Jeff Green are still spread across the roster, but the Celtics just aren't the same.
Then there's Garnett, who won't even be playing.
“It wasn’t my decision," Garnett said of sitting out against Boston, according to ESPN New York's Mike Mazzeo. "So that’s where I’m going to leave that."
Almost everything Pierce associates with the Celtics—Rondo, Garnett, Rivers, winning, the fans—won't be a part of this game. For him to really confront the past and turn the page, the stakes will have to mean something. The fans will have to be Boston fans.
Pierce will have to return home as an outsider.
What to Expect From Pierce On the Court
The Truth will still play this game with the same intensity he goes to bed with, but this isn't the regular season and coach Jason Kidd isn't going to play him extensively.
Pierce appeared in two of Brooklyn's first three preseason games. In each of those contests, he played no more than 14 minutes. Expect nothing (drastically) different when the Nets host the Celtics. Kidd isn't going to chance Pierce's health when he's preached caution since taking over.
With Deron Williams still nursing an injured right ankle, Pierce should see some time as the primary playmaker. And with Garnett out as well, there's no doubt he'll be encouraged to let loose during his limited time on the floor.
Though it's near impossible to gauge how well Pierce will play given the circumstances, I'd say 15 minutes of on-court action, accompanied by some modest box-score totals, is a safe bet.
Projected Stat Line: seven points, four rebounds, three assists and one steal on 3-of-6 shooting.
Playing the Celtics means something even now. A whole lot actually.
Pierce can't just forget 15 years worth of memories because it's a relatively meaningless preseason game, and the Celtics of today bear no resemblance to the Celtics he helped build. There will still be a special connection to the jersey and the organization.
His reaction, however, will be subdued, bordering on emotionless. Until he makes that trip back to Boston, the threat of tears and insurmountable mental barriers won't present themselves.
“This is not about me individually, nor is it about Paul [Pierce], nor is it about Jet [Jason Terry] or any individual player here," Garnett said, per Mazzeo.
This isn't just another game, but it's not the game either. In due time, that game will come. It's just not here yet.
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