Paul Pierce through the years
Boston didn't know it at the time, but a future Hall-of-Famer slid to the Celtics with 10th pick in the 1998 NBA Draft. The C's drafted one of the best Celtics to ever wear the jersey in franchise history, Paul Pierce. The rookie out of Kansas averaged 16.5 points, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.7 steals on his way to the All-Rookie First team. Who cares that Boston finished with a 19-31 record, the future was here. This was a lockout shortened season.
Pierce's second season in the NBA brought even more hope. Along with Antoine Walker, the tandem proved to be two of the more exciting young talents in the NBA. Pierce finished the year averaging 19.5 points, 5.4 rebounds, and 2.1 steals. That would be the most steals he'd average in a season over his Celtics career. Boston finished with a 35-47 record.
After two seasons in the NBA, Paul Pierce looked ready to make the leap. But about a month before the season was to begin, Pierce was involved in a brutal stabling in which the C's forward was stabbed 11 times in the face, neck, and back at what was known as the Buzz Club in Boston. Many wondered if he would be able to play that season, or ever be the same again. Remarkably, he suited up for Game 1 of the NBA season . . . and played all 82 games. Pierce averaged 25.3 points and 6.4 rebounds. He was the first Celtics player to score 2,000 or more points since Larry Bird in 1987-88, and it was clear at that point he was the real deal.
Finally, the winning came along with the statistics. The Celtics made it back to the postseason after a six-year hiatus, and went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals, before losing to the Nets in six games. But Game 3 went into the history books as the biggest comeback in NBA Playoff history, as the Celtics came back from 21 points down in the 4th quarter and beat the Nets, 94-90. Pierce scored 28 points in the game. He averaged 26.1 for the season, and made his first All-Star appearance, one of ten appearances in a C's uniform. Who would have thought that years later he'd play for that very team, just in another city?...
Fast-forward to the postseason, where Pierce and the Celtics were in a battle with the Indiana Pacers in the first round. If you're a real Celtics fan, you remember Game 4. With the Celtics down 16 points at the half, they stormed back in the third quarter led by Pierce, who dropped 21 points in that quarter alone. Three of those points will live in C's history forever. With seconds ticking down to end the third, both teams cleared out for Pierce to take Pacers forward Al Harrington 1-on-1. With Harrington and Pierce jawing back and forth, Pierce slowly made his way to the three-point line, checking the clock carefully. He made a move forward, stepped back, and drained a three-pointer in Harrington's face. Euphoria. Pierce scored 32 points in the second half, a C's record for a half. Boston won the game and the series, but lost in the next round to the Nets once again.
Pierce held strong through a season of many changes. Danny Ainge was now the team's GM, and he made sure to shake things up early and often. Antoine Walker was out, Raef Lafrentz was in. The Celtics also traded away one of Pierce's good friends Tony Battie in a trade that brought back Ricky Davis. Boston snuck into the postseason as the 8th seed but didn't last, losing to the No. 1 seed Pacers. Pierce averaged 23.0 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 5.1 assists in 80 regular season games.
The Celtics welcomed Doc Rivers to the team as head coach, and it proved to be a good move. It would be the beginning of a great relationship between Rivers and Pierce, one that grew over the years. Rivers is now the head coach of the Clippers, but he and Pierce proved to soldier through the rough years and taste a championship together with the Celtics. This season though, they'd settle for a 45-37 record and a first round exit against the Pacers (again) in seven games. Pierce played all 82 games that season - the last time he'd do so with the Celtics - averaging 21.6 points, 6.6 rebounds, and 4.2 assists.
Statistically speaking, Paul Pierce had a great season. In fact, he averaged 26.8 points per game - the highest average of his 15-year career. He scored 30 or more points in 13 of 14 games from February 4 - March 8, something no other Celtic has done franchise history. He was the only player in the NBA to lead his team in points (26.8), rebounds (6.7), assists (4.7) and steals (1.4) per game. His postseason numbers? Don't waste your time looking for them. Pierce didn't have a whole lot of help that season, as the Celtics finished with just a 33-49 record, missing the playoffs by seven games. The C's weren't in a good place, but next season would prove that it could always be worse . . .
If there was a rock bottom for Pierce's career with the Celtics, this would be the season. This would also be rock bottom for many Celtics fans who started watching the team in the late 90's, early 2000's. Pierce played a career-low 47 games with the C's that year, hampered by a left foot injury. Boston finished with the second-worst record in the NBA and it was clear they were going in one direction while Pierce wanted to go in another. With hopes of a top 1-2 pick in the NBA Draft, Boston looked to be ready to hit the reset button and build for a future . . . one that may not have included Pierce. But then the pingpong balls fell . . .
. . . and long story short, well, you already know. Ray Allen in. Kevin Garnett in. Pierce happy. Celtics win. And win . . . and win. Pierce took a hit in the stats department, but that was to be expected alongside two Hall of Famers. Besides, he cared about winning first - everybody did. Boston finished with the best record in the NBA, cruising to the postseason. They knocked off the Hawks, Cavs, and Pistons in a much easier written-than-done way, before the Lakers met them in the Finals. Pierce had waited his entire career for this, but it looked for a few minutes like it was going to end in the worst way possible: with an injury. Pierce went down in Game 1, grabbing his knee in pain. He was wheeled off the court. Somehow, he returned minutes later from the locker room and led the C's to a Game 1 victory, and eventually an NBA Finals Championship - MVP and all.
The Celtics raised the banner and received their rings in their first home game of the season. They now had the target on their backs, and every team was out to knock them from their throne. Pierce was ready for the task. He played in 81 games and averaged 37.5 minutes per game - both highs for him in the Big Three era. Boston went on a 19-game winning streak this season too. But while Pierce stayed relatively healthy throughout the season, his teammates couldn't. Kevin Garnett went down with a knee injury that held him out of the end of the regular season and into the playoffs. That proved to be too much for Pierce and the C's to overcome in the second round, as they were eliminated by the Magic in Game 7.
A strong first half of the regular season was followed by a less-than-stellar second half, but the Celtics still made the playoffs as the 4th seed. That's when Pierce and Co. turned it on. They handled Dwyane Wade and the Heat in Round 1, as Pierce's 32-point performance in Game 3 gave Boston a 3-0 series lead. In the second round against the Cavs, Pierce was limited offensively, but did a commendable job limiting LeBron James. the Celtics upset top-seeded Cavs and LeBron James in the second round in six games. Pierce played 40-plus minutes in five of the six games against the Magic in the Conference Finals, averaging 24.3 points and 8.3 rebounds. That set Boston up for a NBA Finals rematch with the Lakers. But this time it didn't go the Celtics' way. Up 3-2 in the series, the C's lost Kendrick Perkins early in Game 6 when it was later determined he tore his ACL. Boston dropped Game 6, and gave up a 4th quarter lead to fall to L.A. in seven games. Pierce struggled in both of those games.
This was a trying season for Pierce and the Celtics, as they lost two key members of their championship team in Tony Allen (via free agency) and Kendrick Perkins (via trade deadline trade). The Perkins trade particularly shook the Celtics, and they just never got back on track with Jeff Green and Nenad Krstic. Big men Jermaine O'Neal and Shaquille O'Neal couldn't stay healthy and the C's were undermanned down the stretch. Pierce, however, did stay healthy. He played in 80 games and averages 18.9 points and 5.4 rebounds. Somewhat surprisingly, the Celtics dominated the Knicks in four games to open the postseason, as Pierce averaged 22.3 points in the series. But when it came to face the Heat in the second round, Boston couldn't hang. The Heat knocked them off in five games, and Pierce had trouble finding a rhythm in that Game 5, as he shot just 5-12 and scored 12 points.
The Celtics struggled for a good portion of the regular season, but somehow clinched the Atlantic Division for a fifth straight time. That gave them the fourth seed, and in doing so allowed them to avoid the Heat until the Eastern Conference Finals. First, they knocked off the Hawks in the first round. Then the Sixers were up, having defeated the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. Boston beat the Sixers which set up an epic showdown with the Heat. Nobody expected the C's to play this well, but like so many times in the past, they proved the doubters wrong. Pierce averaged 21.2 points against the Hawks, and 17.7 points and 7.4 rebounds against the Sixers. Boston shockingly had a 3-2 series lead against the Heat but couldn't seal the deal. They lost a heartbreaking series, one that seemed to take a lot out of them as a whole even going into the next season - Pierce's final one with the team.
This would be the first season since Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen joined that Pierce would be without the third member of the big three in Allen, who went down south to the Heat. Unlike most of the other seasons in the Big Three era, this one was rocky from the start . . . and stayed that way for the most part. The Celtics were no longer considered top dogs. Then, starting point guard Rajon Rondo went down for the season with an ACL tear. So did Jared Sullinger with a back injury. But Boston went on a roll - and that was largely in part due to Pierce's elevated play. Without a true PG, Pierce took on the role of point forward at times, racking up assists and becoming more active on the glass. He finished the season averaging 18.6 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 4.8 assists. That rebound average was his most since 2005-06, and the assist average was the second-highest of his career behind 5.1 in the 2003-04 season. But like the rest of his teammates, Pierce ran out of gas in the postseason and the C's were eliminated in the first round by the Knicks in six games. On Thursday night, June 27, 2013, Celtics Insider A. Sherrod Blakely reported that Kevin Garnett was likely to waive his no-trade clause which would send him, Pierce, and Jason Terry to the Nets. Pierce's final Celtics career numbers: 1,102 games, 36.6 minutes per game, 44.7 field goal percentage, 80.6 free throw percentage, 21.8 points, 6.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists. **** Information from the Boston Celtics official team site season recaps was used in this article ****