Celtics

Celtics

The modern Lakers-Celtics rivalry was personified by the individual rivalry between Paul Pierce and Kobe Bryant.

The tragic death of Bryant, along with his daughter and seven others in a helicopter crash on Sunday, has, of course, sent shockwaves throughout the NBA and beyond. 

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Pierce, now an ESPN analyst, talked about how devastated he was by the news and recalled great moments with his rival, both on and off the court, on "The Jump" with Rachel Nichols on Wednesday: 

“Even right now it doesn’t even feel real,” Pierce said. “A guy who motivated me, who brought the best out of me on and off the court. And I tell people today there would be no Paul Pierce ‘The Truth’ without Kobe. If people know where the nickname 'The Truth' came from, it was from me having a really good game against Kobe Bryant and Shaq dubbing me ‘The Truth.’ … I felt like I lost a brother. I felt like I lost a family member."

It's been 19 years since the night Pierce went off for 42 points against the Lakers at the Staples Center, in the middle of Los Angeles' three-peat as NBA champions, so he can be forgiven for forgetting that Bryant didn't actually play in that March 13, 2001 game, after which Shaquille O'Neal dubbed the then-third-year Celtics forward, "the mother[expletive] truth."

 

Still, there's no doubt that Bryant did indeed push Pierce to new heights in their matchups. 

Pierce even recalled a commercial shoot where Bryant's legendary competitiveness showed through.

"Next thing you know we're engaging, in a commercial, in a one-on-one battle," Pierce said. "A two-, three-minute one-on-one battle in a commercial shoot."

The loss of Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and the other victims in the crash, led Pierce to think about the importance of family in its aftermath.

"I grew up without a father. I haven't seen my father since I was four years old. It's made me want to get in contact with him," Pierce said. "I was really like going through the internet, I'm contacting my mom. This, what happened to Kobe, affected me in that way."

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Warriors-Celtics, which begins Thursday at 7 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, followed by tip-off at 8 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.