LOS ANGELES -- When Paul Pierce returned to Boston for the last time last time as a player last month, he had a chance encounter with Isaiah Thomas at Strip by Strega restaurant.
The two sat down and broke bread.
Pierce spoke of how he enjoyed watching Thomas play, providing him tips on how to continue to navigate his way through the Boston sports scene which can be a challenge if you’re not prepared for some amazing highs and some brutally painful lows.
It was just a couple of NBA guys who happened to cross paths and decided to chat for a while.
But for a franchise who has seen the amazing works and wonders of the basketball gods, this was no accident.
Whether they intended to meet up or not, this was going to happen.
It had to.
This is how the passing of the torch works with the established (Pierce) and soon-to-be Celtics royalty (Thomas).
When one great era comes to an end, an heir apparent moves in.
Hello Isaiah Thomas.
While the game at the TD Garden on Feb. 5 was certainly the final emotional moment in this love affair between the Truth and Celtics Nation, true closure won’t be complete until after tonight’sgame between Boston and the Los Angeles Clippers.
Because after tonight, this is it.
Pierce the player will never face the franchise that he helped lead through a treacherous period filled with historic losses only to be followed by a meteoric rise to the top of the NBA mountaintop.
The 39-year-old Pierce was there for it all, and has on more than one occasion talked about how those rough times paved the way for him to appreciate the sweet moments like winning it all in 2008, the jubilation of that moment that he got to share with Kevin Garnett whose path to a title was just as jagged as the one Pierce traveled.
Isaiah Thomas’ story as a Celtic won’t have such a rags-to-riches theme to it.
Thomas’ basketball odyssey has that narrative covered, from the preface of constantly being told he was too small to … (pick a level of play; Thomas has heard it time and time again), to an epilogue in which he has been rewriting the history books of the most storied franchise in NBA history.
But Thomas’ story isn’t over.
In fact, it’s only beginning as he leads the Celtics (40-23) to their best start under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens with a record that ranks among the league’s best.
Boston is on track to open the playoffs at home for the first time since 2012, when they advanced to the Eastern Conference Finals.
That was also the last year the Celtics won a playoff series, which is the next step for Thomas and the Celtics as they continue to improve and inch closer and closer to becoming a title contender.
“It was a surreal moment for me to sit back and soak up all the game he was giving me,” Thomas said of dinner with Pierce. “I’ll take that with me forever.”
And as he prepares to face Pierce and the Clippers one last time, Thomas knows the legacy of the 10-time All-Star was etched in stone following the 2008 season when he led the Celtics to an NBA-best 17th title.
Celtics Nation showed their appreciation for Pierce during his final game at the TD Garden on Feb. 5, a moment that Thomas appreciated … and hoped to someday have for himself.
“You win a championship here, you give your all here, they’ll love you forever,” Thomas said at the time. “It was the definition of what they did for one of the best players ever to play here.”
Thomas added, “It drives me a lot. I want to be like that one day, hopefully. Be in that situation where I can be on a franchise for a long time; give it my blood, sweat and tears and come back and play your last game and have that type of love is unbelievable.”