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Boston Celtics’ Fans Can Handle “The Truth”: Fan’s Take
Paul Pierce now stands within nine points of surpassing Celtic legend Larry Bird as the second all-time leading scorer in franchise history. Looking back at the 13-year career of the nine-time NBA all star, there were several moments early on that would raise questions about Pierce's commitment to winning and professional attitude; but eventually would answer those questions and put the finishing touches on a future hall of fame career.
The nickname "The Truth" has its origin from one of the NBAs most infamous nickname generators. In 2001, Paul Pierce and the Celtics lost to Shaquille O'Neal and the Los Angeles Lakers. During the loss, Pierce poured in 42 points on 13 for 19 shooting; which prompted O'Neal to state after the game:
"Take this down. My name is Shaquille O'Neal and Paul Pierce is the [expletive] truth. Quote me on that, and don't take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn't know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth."
From that moment, the name was given, and it stuck. But many things occurred in the career of Paul Pierce that led him to the player that he is today. Pierce was selected tenth in the 1998 NBA draft, behind lesser talents like Michael Olowokandi, Robert Traylor, and Larry Hughes. The late selection would be cited by Pierce throughout his career as a motivator to prove those who questioned his talents wrong. Unfortunately Pierce would have to wait to make his case as a legitimate NBA star as a result of the NBA lockout; which reduced the season to 50 games, 47 of which Pierce played in. Boston would win just 19 games and fail to make the playoffs for the fourth of six straight seasons dating back to the 1995-96 season. Pierce and incumbent Celtics star Antoine Walker would become a formidable duo and would help lead the Celtics from the depths of the NBA back into league relevance; but failed to have the depth of talent to emerge as a legitimate title contender.
The career that has developed for Pierce came very close to never happening at all. Just prior to the 2000-01 season, Pierce would be stabbed 11 times at a local night club; injuries sustained that would require lung surgery to repair the damage. In spite of the severity of his injuries and the close proximity to the start of the NBA season, Pierce would still start all 82 games for the Celtics that season; demonstrating a level of toughness that would be synonymous with him over the years.
The following season the Celtics would make their first playoff appearance in seven; mostly as a result of Pierce's emergence as the team's go-to player. For the season, Pierce averages 26.1 points per game; good for third in the NBA and would become the first Celtic to ever lead the league in total points scored. The Celtics would reach the Eastern Conference finals that season and face the New Jersey Nets. In game three, Paul Pierce would score 19 of his 28 points in the pivotal fourth quarter; as the Celtics overcame a 21-point fourth-quarter deficit to defeat the New Jersey Nets. Despite the heroic effort, the Celtics would be eliminated in six games.
in May 2003, Danny Ainge would be named as Executive Director of Basketball Operations and quickly surmised that the current veteran team had reached their peak and was not considered a legitimate title contender as they were currently constituted. Over the next four seasons, Ainge would obtain several talented players through the draft, as the Celtics would begin their descent back into the lesser teams in the league. As a player who has carried the franchise for the first eight seasons, frustrations would begin to mount for the team captain as more young players would be obtained and the team results would decline.
Prior to the 2004-05 season, the Celtics would hire Doc Rivers as head coach. During the season, both player and coach would have differing opinions as to what Pierce's contributions on the floor should be; at times leading to flare-ups between the two, highlighted by Rivers removing Pierce from December game for failing to hustle. Despite the friction between coach and player, Boston would qualify for the 2005 playoffs but would be no match for the upper echelon teams in the league.
In game six of their 2005 first round series in Indiana, Pierce would continue demonstrating signs of his immaturity. After being ejected after arguing a questionable foul call, Pierce would respond by removing his jersey and swing it above his head as he left the floor; and then wear a bandage around his head in the post-game press conference to indicate that he was physically man-handled in the contest. Both moves would be viewed by fans and media alike as a selfish and immature action from a player who the team hopes to build around.
At the time, Celtics management and Pierce were faced with a decision of whether he and the Celtics would be better served by parting ways. After much speculation and discussion, team president Danny Ainge concluded that Boston would retain Pierce and leverage much of their young talent and move towards a championship run. The Celtics would put their full support behind Pierce by signing him in the 2006 off-season to a multi-year contract extension.
The initial returns on the contract extension were less than positive; as the 2006-07 season would be the low point of Pierce's career. The forward would play in only 47 games due to injury and the team would lose 18 straight games on route to a 24-58 record. Pierce would respond to the lost season by getting into the best shape of his career while Ainge overhauled the roster, obtaining Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett; giving Pierce star-caliber players to take the offensive and defensive burden off of his shoulders. Pierce would sacrifice scoring chances in exchange for a greater commitment on the defensive end and the results would be instantaneous; as Pierce would captain the team to the league's greatest turnaround; with the 66-win team dominating with a combination of tenacious defense and balanced scoring. With a deep and talented team at his disposal, Pierce would finally show his commitment to win by playing defense at a level never before seen from the captain.
In game seven of 2008 Eastern Conference semi-finals, Pierce would engage in a one-on-one duel with emerging league superstar LeBron James. Much like Larry Bird dueled with then Atlanta Hawks star Dominique Wilkins in a playoff shootout 10 years prior, Paul Pierce would have his moment as well; with Pierce scoring 41 points while James tallied 45 in the Celtics victory. Unlike his singlehanded dominance against the Nets six seasons earlier, this performance would solidify Pierce as a star who can play on the game's biggest stage and shine. During the NBA Finals, Pierce would overcome a game one knee injury to spur the Celtics on to a six game series win; and secure series MVP honors.
The championship would not only end Pierce's 10-year quest for a championship but also hang a banner in the rafters of TD garden for the first time in 22 seasons; and place Pierce's name among the greats ever to wear the green and white uniform. Over the next few seasons, Pierce would remain the team's go-to player and along with Allen, Garnett and Rondo remain the only players from the 2008 championship.
As Pierce passes Bird on the all-time scoring list; comparisons to Bird directly are neither fair nor balanced; but there is much to appreciate of the evolution the player from immature and selfish to team-oriented leader. Pierce has maintained a great level of durability and has become synonymous with the current-era Celtics and his commitment to winning is on par with many of the greats that graced the parquet floor for generations. The lack of multiple championships will continue to position Pierce as deficient when compared to the many greats who have worn the Celtics jersey. But aside from those comparisons, there is much to appreciate from Pierce as he winds down a successful career.
Scott Duhaime is a passionate fan of the Boston Celtics and avid follower of the NBA for over 30 years; witnessing five of Boston's 17 championships. His professional career includes a solid foundation of analytics that contributes to a better appreciation of player and team contributions.
Yahoo! Sports Boston Celtics Home Page
Yahoo! Sports Paul Pierce Player Profile
Basketball-reference.com: Boston Celtics Franchise Index
Basketball-reference.com: 1998 NBA Draft
PaulPierce.net: Inside the Truth
SI.com Article May 2002: Celtics pull off biggest comeback ever
ESPN.com Article December 2004: 4th-quarter argument appears resolved
Boston.com July 2006: Celtics extend Pierce
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