Photo via Charles Krupa/AP Photo
Yesterday, the career of an NBA great came to a close when forward Paul Pierce and the Los Angeles Clippers lost Game 7, 104-91 to the Utah Jazz.
However, what Pierce will be remembered for is his time spent wearing green. The Kansas product was selected No. 10 overall in 1998 by the Boston Celtics and would go on to play 15 seasons in Boston.
Aside from a 2002 playoff run, Pierce was surrounded by marginal talent for much of the first half of his career. 10 years into his career Pierce was a perennial All-Star, however, being a member of the winningest franchise in the NBA, Pierce was viewed through a different lense. Being quartered in a city renown for athletic success, Pierce was seen as perhaps the best Celtic without a ring.
At this point in his career, Pierce had noticeably less bounce, more weight, and less quickness. However, Pierce still withheld deceptive speed and enjoyed an arsenal of potent old-man scoring moves. Every step Pierce took was calculated; using his strength and wits to get to where he needed to on the floor.
On the other end of the floor, Pierce was quick enough to guard shooting guards like Dwayne Wade and Kobe Bryant and also strong enough to cover small forwards like LeBron James.
Pierce was never considered one of the top 3 individual players in the league, but, he was consistently a top-10 player. One of Pierce’s defining features was his ability to take over in big games. It was visible when Pierce was on his game, it was all in his body, as after a made basket he would leisurely bound down the court, his head slightly tilted upwards and a half grin shining across his face.
When he had it going, Pierce’s success seemed to bother his defenders an exceptional amount. Pierce’s game and swagger will forever cement him as one of the NBA’s most unique talents.
Fortunately, in the summer of 2007, general manager Danny Ainge engineered a number of moves to lure superstars Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen to Boston.
Pierce and the “Big 3” were coupled with a young pass-first point guard, Rajon Rondo, along with defensive stalwart Kendrick Perkins. Off the bench, the 2008 Celtics featured a high sock wearing spark plug-in Eddie House, lockdown defender Tony Allen and reliable, modest forward, Leon Powe.
Unlike many teams experiencing significant roster turnover, the Celtics suffered no “growing pains” and cruised to the number 1 seed, winning 66 games along the way.
Nonetheless, one thing was apparent, this was Pierce’s team. When they desperately needed a bucket, the ball went to Pierce, when the game was on the line, the ball went to Pierce and when they finally won the championship, Pierce was the first to hoist the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Winning the championship was a defining moment for both Pierce and the city of Boston. For many of the younger Celtics fans, Pierce was the “Larry Bird” of our generation. His win solidified him as a Celtic great and united him with all of the Celtics who won a championship in green before him.