By: Kenny Doyle
Paul Pierce has played his last game in the NBA. After playing in over 1300 games, 1,102 of which were in a Boston Celtics uniform, Pierce is hanging them up and leaving the NBA behind. Pierce’s career was a hall of fame one without question. The only goal not reached is that it couldn’t end in Boston. For the last 4 years of Pierce’s career, Celtics fans were forced to watch longingly as he played for teams in black, red, and blue. Not in green, like he should have been.
I wrote back in January about how Paul Pierce’s legacy will live on in Boston through the players the Brooklyn picks produce, be it Markelle Fultz and Jaylen Brown or Jimmy Butler. Pierce’s departure was a necessary move and a smart one, but it still hurts. As Celtics fans watch Duncan retire a Spur, Kobe retire a Laker, and inevitably Dirk retire a Maverick, Pierce not being a lifelong Celtic becomes all the more painful.
Despite that, Pierce will always be a Celtic, no matter what. It’s not unprecedented for a player you may only remember with one franchise to have played for other teams. Dominique Wilkins, Patrick Ewing, and Scottie Pippen all ended their careers on different teams than the ones we remember them on. Even Michael Jordan didn’t end his career playing for the Bulls. Trading Paul Pierce was what was best for the franchise going forward, and no matter what Pierce will still be remembered as a Celtic.
Pierce retiring brings back memories of some of his best moments. His battles with LeBron James have to be at the top of the list. His 2008 scoring duel with the king is one of the best in NBA history, but his most memorable shot against James came a few years later in an isolation play on the wing with the clock winding down. A play call that might as well be named after Paul Pierce.
Pierce was the last man to haunt LeBron. No other player in the east has challenged LeBron like Pierce did. James all out admits that Pierce was the last demon he had to vanquish in his own career to get to the level he is at today. The Celtics were the team LeBron had to leave Cleveland to beat in a move that he may not regret, but judging by the fact that he felt the need to return, it was clearly a move he wishes he didn’t have to make.
The wing iso was Pierce’s favorite play, and it shouldn’t be a surprise that another one of Pierce’s best moments was a shot from the same spot as the last one.
Let’s all just take a moment after that to appreciate the call from Mike Gorman. This is up their with Mike Gorman’s best moments as a broadcaster. The perfection in the “BURIES IT!” call is beautiful. Was he talking about the shot or Al Harrington’s coffin? Mike Gorman is a national treasure, but that’s a story for another day.
That Pierce shot on Harrington was from the exact same spot as the one on James, and that’s where the beauty of Pierce is truly evident. Pierce was a player who you couldn’t defend, you just had to hope he missed. He had spots on the floor that once he got to, it was over. Whether it was the free throw line jumper, the wing three, or the layup while shouting “AND 1!”, Paul Pierce was unguardable. Pierce will be remembered as a scored. Scoring 26,397 points in the NBA, each leaving the defender shaking his head.
The real tragedy of Pierce’s career is that the Celtics only won one championship. Injuries to Perkins in 2010 and Garnett in 2009 hampered their chances at a 2nd or 3rd ring. So many NBA legends like Reggie Miller and Charles Barkley would love to say they won just one, but somehow one still isn’t enough.
The Celtics have already announced Paul Pierce’s #34 will be retired. Pierce spent about a decade in a Celtics uniform staring up at those rafters looking at those championship banners and retired numbers knowing that if he wanted to be an all time great Celtic, he needed to help raise a new championship banner to those rafters.
Pierce has done so much for the Celtics, but I’d like him to do one more thing: Jaylen Brown needs him.
When you watch Jaylen Brown play, you can tell he’s out of control, and Pierce was always playing at his own tempo. Never flustered by anyone. Jaylen looks like he doesn’t know how to move on the court at times. If anyone can teach him that, it’s Paul Pierce. For Pierce, every single move Pierce made on the court was calculated. If Paul can just help Jaylen figure out how to move on the court just a little bit like he did, it will do wonders for Jaylen’s game. He doesn’t have good ball handling right now and at times seems timid when driving to the hoop. It almost seems easy for defenders to draw charges on Jaylen. By no means is Pierce obligated to bestow any of his wisdom on Jaylen Brown, it would just further his legacy if he did.
For those Celtics fans under the age of 30, Paul Pierce is the best Celtic they ever saw. Bird and Russell were too long ago for them to see play. For the new generation, it was Paul Pierce that was there childhood hero. That will be Pierce’s legacy. To him, he may just be one of too many great Celtics to count, but for some of us, he’s the best Celtic we ever knew.