BOSTON – Paul Pierce’s final game at the TD Garden on Sunday was billed as means of bringing some closure to the career of one of the greatest players ever in the franchise’s history.
But in many ways, it also served as a passing of the guard.
No longer are the Celtics of today viewed in the post-Big Three/Paul Pierce prism.
This is Isaiah Thomas’ team, with Sunday’s 107-102 Celtics win over Pierce and the Los Angeles Clippers essentially serving as Pierce’s way of blessing this transition.
He and Thomas went out to dinner Saturday night at Strip by Strega, which was the first time Thomas said he had a chance to have an extensive talk with the 10-time All-Star.
Thomas, who will be playing in his second straight All-Star game on Feb. 19, said they talked about “everything; the city, championships.”
Pierce also repeated some of the praise about Thomas that he had shared earlier with reporters.
“He (Pierce) said ‘When I watch you play, I can tell you figured it out. You’re not forcing anything. The game is coming to you and it looks very easy,’” Thomas recalled.
Thomas added, “it was a surreal moment for me to sit back and soak up all the game he was giving me. I’ll take that with me forever.”
Pierce recognizes that Thomas is the future for the Celtics, and like himself, he came to Boston with a huge chip on his shoulder.
Leading up to the 1998 NBA draft, Pierce was viewed by most experts as a top-five selection only to slip to the 10th overall pick.
And Thomas felt he was one of the nation's best players when he entered the draft, only to be the last player selected in the 2011 draft.
"As a competitor you always try to find different things to motivated you," Pierce said. "I can see that in Isaiah. He'll always have that chip on his shoulder and that's the way he's playing."
But ultimately, Pierce's place among Celtics legends was cemented in 2008 when he along with Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen brought Banner 17 to Boston.
“You win a championship here, you give your all here, they’ll love you forever,” Thomas said. “It was the definition of what they did tonight 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.”
And for Pierce to check into the game with less than 20 seconds to play and drain a 3-pointer for his final shot at the TD Garden, Thomas felt honored to be on the floor for that moment.
“I just wanted him to shoot it,” said Thomas who was on the floor defending (sort of but not really) Pierce when he re-entered the game.
“I just kept backing up,” Thomas said. “I wanted him to shoot it and make it. I was chanting his name too; I wanted him to come back in the game. It was a great moment to be a part of. That shot defines his career; to sit almost the whole game and make his last shot as a Celtic … that was great.”
And that last statement by Thomas (“… sit almost the whole game and make his last shot as a Celtic …) speaks to how Pierce is seen in the eyes of many.
He may be a Clipper by contract, but Paul Pierce will forever been seen as a Celtic at heart.