Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett's Finest Moments as Boston Celtics
On the surface level, it's nothing more than a contest between two struggling teams. The Brooklyn Nets have used a hot streak to move into the No. 7 spot in the Eastern Conference, and the C's are quickly falling down in the rankings, even with Rajon Rondo back in the lineup.
But it's so much more than that.
For the first time in his career, Paul Pierce will be using the visiting team's locker room at the Boston Garden. It's not as extreme for Kevin Garnett, but it's still the first time he'll be wearing the wrong colors in Beantown since leaving the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The two Boston legends made a much-publicized move to the Nets this offseason, and it'll be interesting to see how they're received once they're back in town.
Will the Celtics faithful shower down boos on them, forgetting about the contributions they made over the years? Hopefully not, though I suppose there's a slight chance of such a scene unfolding.
But if they remember these 10 moments, the finest ones from the duo's career in green, they'll greet them with a standing ovation that doesn't die down for quite a long time.
June 24, 1998: The Truth Becomes a Celtic
All legends have to start somewhere.
Even though Paul Pierce didn't do anything special on June 24, 1998, he still became a part of the Boston Celtics organization. The legendary franchise deemed him worthy of the No. 10 pick, and the Kansas Jayhawk put on a Celtics hat for the first time.
The rest, as they say, is history, but don't overlook the remaining portion of that draft class.
Even though Michael Olowokandi was drafted first and became one of the biggest busts in the history of the selection process, the next 59 picks produced quite a few good players. But of all of them, only Pierce, Dirk Nowitzki, Vince Carter and Antawn Jamison are still playing.
It's hard to believe that Pierce's journey started over a decade and a half ago, especially since he's still going strong.
And thank goodness for the Celtics that they decided to select this particular small forward and not Bonzi Wells or Michael Doleac, who were the next two players off the board.
March 13, 2001: Pierce Earns His Nickname
The 2000-01 season didn't start out in strong fashion for Paul Pierce.
He was stabbed about a week before the beginning of training camp while enjoying himself with a few other teammates in a Boston club. But he'd quickly rebound from the violent assault, and he strode out onto the court on opening night, ready to play every game that season.
The most memorable contest, though, wasn't that season opener. It was a March 13 contest against Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers, who were defending the title that Shaquille O'Neal and the Mamba teamed up to win.
Boston couldn't emerge from L.A. with a victory, falling by five points, but Pierce at least kept the contest close. He dropped a 42-spot-on 13-of-19 shooting, and he added another six rebounds, two assists, four steals and a block.
Not a bad line for a third-year player against a vastly superior team. Boston's other starters who played were...wait for it...Antoine Walker (who unsurprisingly went 4-of-12 from downtown), Bryant Stith, Randy Brown and Mark Blount.
After the game, Shaq dropped one heck of a quote, via SportsIllustrated.com:
Take this down. My name is Shaquille O'Neal, and Paul Pierce is the [expletive] truth. Quote me on that, and don't take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn't know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is The Truth.
Needless to say, the nickname stuck, as you can see from that jersey he wore nearly 13 years later, even if it was for a different team.
May 25, 2002: The Improbable Comeback
"At the start of the fourth quarter, we just wanted to fight and make a statement for the next game that we're going to be a team to be reckoned with," Paul Pierce told the Associated Press via Sports Illustrated. "I think we did more than make a statement."
Yes. Yes they did.
No team had ever come back from more than 18 points down in the fourth quarter, and the Boston Celtics entered Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals with a 21-point deficit.
That wouldn't be too much of a problem, as Pierce sparked a comeback that ended with a 41-16 fourth quarter in favor of Beantown. From 21 down to four up.
The Truth was on fire throughout the final period, dropping 19 of his 28 points in those 12 minutes to thoroughly demoralize the New Jersey Nets. He had missed 12 of his first 14 attempts in the game, but that didn't matter as he led the historic comeback.
After the game, celebration ensued, and for good reason.
February and March 2006: Pierce Keeps Scoring 30
Just in case you don't remember:
- February 1: 40 points against the Phoenix Suns
- February 3: 18 points against the Los Angeles Clippers
- February 4: 37 points against the Orlando Magic
- February 6: 31 points against Miami Heat
- February 10: 35 points against the Portland Trail Blazers
- February 12: 31 points against the Orlando Magic
- February 15: 50 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers
- February 21: 30 points against the Utah Jazz
- February 22: 20 points against the Phoenix Suns
- February 24: 37 points against the Portland Trail Blazers
- February 26: 39 points against the Los Angeles Lakers
- March 1: 38 points against the Miami Heat
- March 3: 31 points against the Indiana Pacers
- March 5: 33 points against the Toronto Raptors
- March 7: 31 points against the Washington Wizards
- March 8: 31 points against the Philadelphia 76ers
- March 10: 24 points against the Milwaukee Bucks
- March 12: 36 points points against the Denver Nuggets
That's quite the streak, and it included game-winning shots like the one that you can see up above.
Over the course of 18 games, Paul Pierce failed to break past the 30-point barrier only three times, and the eight-game streak of 30-point outings was the longest one of his career.
Per Basketball-Reference's Streak Finder, it's shorter than only nine stretches of such scoring excellence since the turn of the century.
Pierce averaged 32.9 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists per game over that span, and he did so while averaging 49.4 percent from the field. As a scorer, he's never been hotter.
July 31, 2007: Garnett Officially Comes to Boston
How could this moment possibly be forgotten?
The Boston Celtics were reeling as they headed into the 2007-08 season.
Coming off a 24-58 season in which they sunk to the very bottom of the Eastern Conference, there wasn't much hope for the green-clad squad. But then they made a few big moves, and everything suddenly turned around.
In one fell swoop, the Celtics brought Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett into Boston, allowing them to join with Paul Pierce and form the Big Three.
It led to great SportsCenter commercials, plenty of praise and, of course, a pretty big turnaround in 2007-08.
May 18, 2008: Pierce Destroys the Cleveland Cavaliers
Paul Pierce has always loved rubbing it in LeBron James' face, and he did exactly that during Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Boston Celtics advanced to the next round with a 97-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it was all about The Truth.
Shooting 13-of-23 from the field, Pierce recorded 41 points, four rebounds, five assists and two steals, but his play at the end of the game really stood out. Highlighted by the free throw that bounced roughly 82 feet up into the air before dropping through to give Boston a four-point lead, Pierce dominated down the stretch.
In the fourth quarter, the small forward dropped eight points and two dimes, going head to head with LeBron for much of the final 12 minutes.
June 2008: Winning a Title
Compressing the 2008 NBA Finals into just one slide is nearly impossible, but here goes nothing.
Even though the Celtics' Big Three had only just been assembled that offseason, they'd still earned their way to basketball's biggest stage, and they had the fortune of meeting their ultimate rivals: the Los Angeles Lakers.
In Game 1, Pierce exited via wheelchair after injuring his knee on a collision with Kendrick Perkins, but he'd later return to score 22 points and lead Boston to a series-opening 10-point victory. Games 2 and 3 were relatively uneventful, but the drama returned in the fourth contest of the Finals.
After going down by 21 points in the first quarter, the C's used a 21-3 run at the end of the third period to claw their way back into the thick of things. Then they closed out the fourth quarter and emerged with a six-point victory.
Game 5 went to the Lakers, but the Celtics struck the finishing blow in Game 6 with a 39-point win, the largest margin of victory in a game to clinch a championship. But it was what happened on the court of the Boston Garden that stands out as the most memorable moment of the entire series.
Overwhelmed by passion, KG turned up his head and shouted, "Anything is possible!!!!" at the rafters. It was a completely human moment from a superhuman player, and it should still give you goosebumps when you watch him scream.
November 27, 2009: Pierce Posterizes Chris Bosh
Paul Pierce has never been known as an athletic specimen.
He doesn't give off the appearance of a high-flying dunk machine like Blake Griffin or LeBron James, but he's still managed to carve out one heck of a career for the Boston Celtics. Basketball-Reference shows that Pierce recorded only 25 dunks throughout the entire 2009-10 campaign, when this posterization of Chris Bosh took place.
Let's put that in perspective. According to CBS Sports' Dunk-o-Meter, 49 players this year had topped 25 as of Jan. 23, and that's well before the All-Star break.
Like I said, Pierce isn't exactly a dunker.
But don't tell Bosh that.
Dec. 15, 2010: Drama at MSG
This was one of the most dramatic games in The Truth's career, and it didn't even take place during the postseason.
Pierce always loved playing in Madison Square Garden, as ESPN Boston's Chris Forsberg makes perfectly clear in an article from January of 2013:
When his step-back jumper over Tyson Chandler in the final minute of Monday's visit to New York effectively sealed a victory, Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce—as he is wont to do on the Madison Square Garden floor—smiled and blew a kiss to an audience that couldn't jeer him loud enough.
There was no kiss here, but you can still tell how much the future Hall of Famer reveled in beating the New York Knicks.
With 12.2 seconds remaining in a tied contest, Pierce had 30 points, 10 rebounds and four assists on 9-of-17 shooting from the field. It was already another great performance, but it wasn't over yet.
Pierce immediately received the inbounds pass, ran a high screen to get Amar'e Stoudemire to switch onto him and then hit a deadly step-back jumper to put Boston in front with only 0.4 seconds remaining on the clock. STAT would respond with a game-winning three-pointer, but a review showed that the ball was still in his hands when the final buzzer sounded.
High drama and a victory for Pierce's Celtics. He couldn't have asked for anything more.
June 1, 2012: Knuckle Pushups
Does any play sum up Kevin Garnett's career more appropriately?
In a tough playoff game against the Miami Heat, Udonis Haslem slammed "The Big Ticket" to the floor, and Garnett stayed down for quite some time. As the rest of his teammates swarmed around him, Garnett simply rolled over onto his stomach.
Then he drew plenty of cheers from the Boston Garden crowd as he reeled off eight pushups with his knuckles pressed firmly to the parquet floor.
Was his form perfect? Absolutely not. Did he get to double digits? Negatory.
But the message was heard loud and clear.
As he told the Associated Press via ESPN after the game, "I'm getting crap about my form, but I want people to know it's because it was on my knuckles. That's old school. My uncle taught me to do pushups on my knuckles. That's some Army-Navy stuff."
A little contact wasn't going to slow down Garnett. His trademark intensity was still there, and he was going to do everything in his power to take down the Heat.
The Celtics would go on to win the game by 10 points.