BOSTON – There are always distractions NBA teams have to deal with, regardless of the time of season or the occasion.
But Sunday was different.
While Celtics Nation certainly wanted to see Brad Stevens and his crew continue on their winning ways, they also wanted Paul Pierce – playing at the TD Garden for the last time – to go out in style.
They got the best of both worlds as the Celtics held on for a 107-102 win while Pierce, now with the Los Angeles Clippers, drained a long 3-pointer for his final shot at the TD Garden.
“It’s a tough situation,” said Pierce who started the game but only played the first five minutes before returning with less than 20 seconds to play. “Been sitting for like the last two hours, then had to come in there and get a shot. But I’m glad I ended it that way.”
Said Boston’s Al Horford: “We couldn’t have scripted it any better for him. He got the three to end the game and we got the win.”
During the first time-out of the game, the Celtics played a video tribute to Pierce that moved him to tears. Head coach Doc Rivers didn’t watch because he knew if he did, he too would have been more emotional than he already was during the game.
“I couldn’t,” Rivers said. “I just thought … this is game-time, I’m a coach. But Paul was so emotional and the players were getting emotional. I just … I want to win every game. I wanted to win tonight. But the experience tonight will help us; it almost has to. If it doesn’t, then you don’t like basketball; it’s not in your heart. This experience and what it’s like to be a champion and how you’re treated, will help us in the long run.”
It will certainly benefit the Celtics (33-18), winners of a season-high seven in a row with a four-game road trip on the horizon.
But the story of the day was Pierce whose final game at the TD Garden after having played 15 seasons for the Celtics, had a fitting ending.
“I truly appreciate my time here,” Pierce said. “I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love. It was just … you really don’t know what you, what you meant to a team while you’re playing, and you really don’t get a chance to really reflect on it while you’re playing. It hit me a lot tonight, but I’m sure it’s probably going to hit me a lot more when I’m done playing, but this is something I truly felt tonight. The appreciation of what I’ve been able to give this city and what they’ve been able to give me. Not only on the court but off the court, too.”
Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Sunday’s game.
He gave Celtics Nation one more lasting memory with a 3-pointer late in the game, his final shot at the TD Garden which will someday include number 34 raised high atop the rafters for eternity.
You know you’re doing some pretty amazing things with the ball when you can score 28 points and it seems like an “off night.” But that is the standard that Thomas, who also had a game-high eight assists, is measured against these days.
It wasn’t a monster night scoring the ball for Griffin, but there was no mistaking his presence was felt most of the game. He finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
He spent most of the game tussling with Los Angeles’ DeAndre Jordan, so it wasn’t a surprise to see his rebounding numbers spike some. But Sunday’s work around the rim was impressive as he finished with a double-double of 13 points and 15 rebounds with six assists, two steals and two blocked shots.
He has embraced the role of coming off the bench and yet still delivers the way a starter would. Crawford used his wicked crossover dribble to get free often, finishing with 23 points to go with five assists and three steals.
He was better in the second half, but not by much. The Clippers’ potent long-range shooter was off the mark most of the night. He had six points for the game, but missed seven of his nine shot attempts which included him missing all three of his 3-point attempts.