Boston Celtics Lose Finals, Is Paul Pierce Still a Possible Hall of Famer?
In 1998, Paul Pierce was drafted into the Boston Celtics organization from his home in southern California, making his new team silence his love for the Los Angeles Lakers. It is almost ironic that the Lakers now silence what could possibly be his last season with the Celtics, after 12 seasons and two NBA Finals appearances under his belt.
Pierce came to Boston as an All-American at Kansas, and didn't need long to show the effect of his actions, averaging 16.5 points and 6.4 rebounds in the strike-shortened NBA season. In just 48 games, he somehow had a huge effect on the losing Celtics, averaging a strong 34 minutes per game.
Pierce's PPG mark slowly rose from that 16.5, to 19.5, to 25.3 in the 2000-01 season. He showed that he would be a threat to not only shoot 3-pointers, but defend the boards from the No. 3 position on the floor. Pierce became a playmaker early, showing attitude and grace in the last minutes of games.
Those first three seasons were on under .500 Celtic teams that never reached the playoffs, and it wasn't until the 2001-2002 season that he and Antoine Walker would highlight a team ready to play the New Jersey Nets in the 2001 Eastern Conference Finals.
Pierce and Walker led a dramatic comeback for the Celtics in Game Three, in which the team trailed the Nets by 21 points before pulling out the win for a 2-1 series lead before falling in three straight games with little fight.
It was the closest Pierce would come to the Finals for seven seasons.
Still, the year 2000 will always have a negative connotation with Pierce.
In September 2000, Pierce was getting ready to begin his third NBA season, and went to party in Boston with teammate Tony Battie and his brother. Pierce got between two men in the middle of a fight where there was at least one knife involved in the incident. Before the end of the night, Pierce had 11 stab wounds from his face to his back. Pierce was dangerously close to joining the afterlife before he was saved due to a quick route to the hospital and life-saving surgery to his lungs.
Pierce survived and fully recovered from the ordeal to play all 82 games in the season, while holding that he had done nothing illegal or wrong at the club that fateful night.
When Danny Ainge became part of the Celtics organization in the front office, the rumors were often and constant. Pierce continued to make All-Star appearances as well as average around 25 points per game, and the Celtics continued to be knocked out early in the playoffs.
Doc Rivers was named coach, and a new age began in 2004 as young players took over, and the draft took center stage. Boston came together, as Rajon Rondo was picked up from the Phoenix Suns, and forward Leon Powe joined the train.
Yet, a dark period had begun again, as Pierce's mentor, Red Auerbach, passed away and Pierce was constantly asking for a trade to anyone who wanted to listen. Pierce would be injured for much of the 2006-07 season, as young players like Rondo and Al Jefferson took over the horrible 18-game winners, while Pierce sat on the bench.
Kobe Bryant and Pierce met during the 2007 offseason for a shoot-around in southern LA, both hoping and thinking this might be there last season on their respective teams. Little did they know, in just months they would face each other in the NBA Finals.
Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett both joined the team to the astonishment and amazement of Pierce. Pierce would score over 2,000 points in the 2007-08 season, and peace seemed to have settled over his tougher Celtic years.
The Celtics fought through a surprising seven-game series against the No. 8 seed and supposedly much weaker Atlanta Hawks. It was also not the prettiest of series for Pierce, who within the third game was accused by the NBA of showing off gang symbols on live TV. Pierce strongly denied the claim, and is the head of an organization against gang violence.
In Game Seven of the Conference semifinals, Pierce amazed even LeBron James, as he scored 41 points to lead the Celtics into the Conference finals.
Pierce wouldn't be defeated in the Conference Finals this time, as he was the only player left from the C's 2001 run. The Celtics would finally win on the road, defeating the Detroit Pistons in six games.
Pierce, for the first time, would join the likes of NBA Finals greatness. The only problem was that he, Garnett, and Allen would face the likes of Bryant and then relative Lakers newcomer, Pau Gasol.
In Game One, Pierce would disappear from the floor in the third quarter with an apparent injury only to return at the end of the quarter with a roar from the crowd. He scored 15 points, as the Celtics took a series lead on their way to Championship No. 17.
The Celtics, Pierce was named Finals MVP, and he could finally enter the conversation as a possible Celtic Hall of Famer. He had escaped trade rumors and a tough background to reach the highest point of his NBA career.
The 2008-09 season was marred by a Garnett injury and a different Celtic team, but Pierce was still an All-Star. He was ready to succeed in the playoffs though as the team's No. 4 spot was filled by Glen "Big Baby" Davis, but to no avail. The team lost in the Eastern Conference semifinals to the Orlando Magic in seven games.
The 2009-10 squad seemed far from being a championship team, but Pierce had moments of brilliance including winning the 3-point contest at the All-Star Game. Garnett and most of the Celtic roster had faced injury, and though they reached the playoffs, it seemed that Rondo had become the team leader and the Celtics were no longer a bright star.
Yet they defeated Miami easily in a 4-1 series, including Pierce's buzzer beater in Game Three to open the series lead to 3-0. They miraculously beat the No. 1 seeded Cleveland Cavaliers, as they had now knocked both Dwayne Wade and LeBron James into free agency from their teams. The Orlando Magic went down 3-1 to the Celtics, who lost a pivotal Game Five in Orlando. It seemed a huge comeback opportunity for Orlando had been opened, only for the window to be shut by Pierce and the Celtics in Game Six.
The Finals had yet again been reached, that for the second time in three years pitted the Celtics against the Lakers.
Yet this series would include an injured Kendrick Perkins, and a restored Bryant, who was ready to beat the arch-rival C's. Gasol had gained a toughness that he had not included in 2008, and Ron Artest (who had always been a rival of Pierce) was ready to cover Pierce for the series. Game Seven came down to an ugly, hard meeting in which Bryant struggled, but still prevailed over Pierce and company.
Pierce is 1-1 in the NBA Finals, and is currently third all-time in Celtics history for points behind legends John Havlicek and Larry Bird. His career point average per game is a strong 22.5 points, and he has reigned as Celtic captain for years now. Though his career has been mixed with team problems and off-court issues, Pierce has been one of the strongest scorers and playmakers of this generation.
Still, in an age of Bryant, Vince Carter, and Tracy McGrady, where does Pierce really rank if he is to be remembered as a scorer? Winning two titles would have had a huge impact on his remaining iconic, but with just one under his belt it is hard to say.
If Pierce is able to stay with the Celtics and have their starting five be redefined, he may indeed continue to succeed. Pierce is 32 years old, an aging number in the NBA.
His days are limited, but the scoring is still there. Though he has not averaged over 21 points per game over the last three seasons, he has been on a real team with a serious chance of a playoff berth every year. His legs have been continually rested, as his minutes per game have lowered.
At this moment, Pierce remains a borderline Hall of Famer. Living in a decade of stars gives him a tough seat, but if former Boston Red Sox slugger Jim Rice can make it into the Baseball Hall of Fame, then anyone can.
Pierce will not retire this year, nor the next, but if he changes teams his legacy in Boston might as well be over.
Pierce staying on as a Celtic for the rest of his career would stronghold his career as one of the finest Celtics to ever play the game.
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