In 1998, when Paul Pierce was selected tenth in the NBA draft, it was looked upon by many Celtics fans as a short consolation prize for the unlucky drop of the lottery balls in 1997. A year later, Pierce, not Tim Duncan, would join Celtics star Antoine Walker, creating a dynamic offensive tandem for years to come. Averaging 16 points and 6 rebounds per game, Pierce was named to All-Rookie team in 1998. A team packed with three scoring options in Walker, Ron Mercer, and Pierce, but devoid of leadership had notched a disappointing record of 19-31. Celtics fans again looked upon Pierce as an inadequate substitute for losing Tim Duncan in the 1997 NBA draft lottery.
The Celtics showed little improvements as the Rick Pitino era had resulted in disaster. It was not until 2002 that Pierce would lead the Celtics to the playoffs for the first time in seven seasons. Pierce and Walker would highlight their playoff march by reaching the Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Nets. Unexpectedly, the 2002 Cinderella Celtics (49-33), had reached the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 1988. Pierce, always considered to be Walker's wing-man, was starting to separate himself as the team's lone leader and, in game three of that series, he would begin to implant himself into Celtics lore by leading the team to the largest fourth quarter comeback in NBA playoff history.
From 2002-2006, the Celtics would situate themselves in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack. During that timespan, the Celtics could not emerge from the Conference Semi-Finals and became recognized as a team destined for mediocrity. In 2006, Paul Pierce would quietly start to line his accomplishments up with former Celtics legends yet he was always overlooked as a the only Celtic superstar unable to lead the franchise to a championship.
The bottom fell out in 2007, as the Captain fell to a stress reaction in his foot in March. The Celtics would suffer additional injuries to Kendrick Perkins, Tony Allen, and Wally Szczerbiak. In a season that ended in total despair, booing audiences and a 19-game losing streak, Pierce would start to believe that it was possible that he would never win a championship with the Celtics. Requesting a trade if help was not supplied, it looked as if the Pierce era in Boston may come to a close.
Danny Ainge, Director of Basketball Operations, answered Pierce's plea for reinforcements by adding Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett. A new era of Celtic domination launched in October of 2007. The Celtics would go on to win the championship in 2008 and Pierce would be named finals MVP. An accomplishment Pierce would relish as he was finally emerging from the pack of NBA stars as a future hall-of-famer.
It is a Celtic tradition for their best players to become anointed legends through winning championships. After a decade of frustrations, mediocre playoff appearances, embarrassing missteps, and losing seasons, Pierce had learned to achieve success through the experience of losing. He would now take his place among the Celtics' list of legendary captains.
Pierce now trails only Larry Bird and John Havlichek as the team's all-time leading scorers. He joins Hondo and Larry Legend as the team's most clutch performers. Perhaps Pierce's greatest accomplishment is the fans acceptance of Pierce's ranking with the legends of the past.
Through the 2009 regular season, Paul Pierce had made 29 game winning shots or free throws. He had trusted his teammates enough to assist them in game winning shots 10 times. Today, I am taking a trip down memory lane to cite some of Pierce's most impressive or emotional clutch performances that helped to land him among the Celtic greats.