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The Los Angeles Clippers’ trip to Boston should have been pitched as a battle. Two NBA Finals hopefuls, looking to establish themselves on a nationally televised stage. The No. 2-ranked, 32-18 Celtics, defending the home court against former Boston head coach Doc Rivers, looking to lead his Clippers back into the championship contender discussion out West. Quite a bit should be at stake.
Games come and go, though, and playoff positioning can be worked out long after the snow melts in Boston. On Sunday, the movement was all about Paul Pierce.
The future Hall of Famer, current Los Angeles Clipper and Boston Celtic from 1998 through 2013 played his last game in Boston on Sunday, with Clippers coach Rivers moving The Truth into the starting lineup in order to take in one last round of wild applause from the Boston faithful:
The Celtics played a video tribute to their former MVP during a break in the action in the first quarter, leading to yet another well-deserved standing ovation from Celtics fans sent Pierce’s way, leading to near-tears on the Los Angeles bench:
Pierce, now working at age 39 and in his final year, played on Sunday for the first time since New Year’s Eve, marking just his 13th game appearance in 2016-17. Pierce has started seven of those 13 contests, but by and large his season has been marked with decisions from Rivers to sit the 10-time All-Star even on a 31-19 Clippers team that for years has searched for swingman depth.
The forward, drafted No. 10 overall by Boston in 1998, averages 3.8 points in 12.3 minutes per game in his second season with the Clips. This is Pierce’s second straight campaign left shooting around 36 percent from the field. He has yet to hit double-figuring scoring this season, and missed a makeable 19-footer from the top of the key (a well-worn notch on the floor he ran over for 14 years) to start the contest.
It hardly mattered. Pierce entered the Garden sporting New England Patriots gear in anticipation of the team’s ninth Super Bowl appearance on Sunday – the seventh such appearance of Pierce’s NBA career:
A career that started, ironically as Pierce pointed out, 18 years to the date of Pierce’s final game in Boston:
Due to the 1998 NBA lockout, Pierce’s debut as a pro had to wait for some seven-plus months after he slipped to No. 10 (and to the giddy C’s) in the draft. He was worth the wait:
Working against the still-active Vince Carter in what turned out to be a Rookie of the Year race preview, Pierce notched 19 points on 7-14 shooting with nine rebounds, five assists, two steals and four blocks (Pierce has notched just three blocks this season) in a 103-92 loss. His teammates included Antoine Walker …
… Kenny Anderson, Greg Minor, Dana Barros and the late Dwayne Schintzius.
Pierce was pulled after five minutes of play in the first quarter, after missing that lone shot, registering no other stat but the “-9” next to his name on the box score, and he did not start the second half in favor of teammate Luc Mbah a Moute. The Boston crowd chanted “We want Paul” loudly throughout the second half, as the Celtics kept the Clippers at arm’s length. Perhaps mindful of the nearly two-hour break between playing stints, Los Angeles coach Doc Rivers decided to keep his 19-year veteran on the bench until the game had been decided.
With 19.8 seconds remaining in the contest, with the Clippers down 106-99, Pierce did enter to rapturous applause in between Al Horford free throw attempts. Horford’s second make, however, moved the score to 107-99, seemingly distancing Pierce from his attempts at making his mark on the game.
Nothing could keep Pierce out of it, though:
From the fan’s eye view:
The 3-pointer wrapped things up at 107-102. As the home team walked off the court a winner, the Boston crowd repeatedly chanted “Thank you Paul” in full range of the ABC microphones.
It was the absolute best way to start what could be a fantastic day for Boston sports fans.
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