BOSTON – The utmost honor that a Boston Celtic can receive is having his jersey number retired. It’s a rare recognition that only 22 players in franchise history have earned. This coming season, one more number will be added to the collection: No. 34.
The Celtics announced Friday afternoon that Paul Pierce’s number would be retired Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018 following an afternoon game with the Cleveland Cavaliers. His No. 34 patch will be unveiled high above the parquet floor at TD Garden, where it will forever hang from the rafters in acknowledgement of the legacy that he established in Boston.
Pierce spent 15 seasons here building that legacy, as he produced numerous iconic moments that will forever be remembered and cherished among Celtics fans. We’ve counted down some of The Truth’s most prominent moments in a Boston uniform, which helped him cement his legendary status and made him the greatest Celtic of his generation. Here are the top 5…
Honorable Mention – Silencing Harrington
There haven’t been many players in the history of the league who have exuded more confidence than Paul Pierce. That confidence was often displayed in the form of trash talk, and he was almost always able to back it up with his play on the court.
Pierce’s most legendary trash-talking moment came during the first-round of the 2002-03 Playoffs against the Indiana Pacers. The sixth-seeded C’s were the underdog of the series, but had managed to gain a 2-1 advantage over the third-seeded Pacers. Game 4 was tied 62-62 during the third quarter, but Boston went on a 15-2 run to close out the frame, with Pierce scoring all 15 points.
The final three points of the run were three of the most memorable points of Pierce’s career. With the clock winding down in the quarter, he dribbled to the top of the arc while glaring at his opponent, Al Harrington. The pair went face-to-face and engaged in a heated back-and-forth verbal battle, all while the seconds continued to tick away.
Harrington got in a low stance and planted his hands on his thighs, daring Pierce to come at him. Pierce accepted the challenge as he shuffled four steps to the left, took one step forward, then one step back and buried an off-balance fadeaway from about 27 feet out. Harrington defended the shot as perfectly as possible, but Pierce was invincible at this moment in time; nothing could’ve stopped that shot from falling through the net.
Pierce went on to score 37 points, to go along with 10 rebounds and seven assists, as the Celtics knocked off the Pacers 102-92 and took a 3-1 series lead. Boston would end up eliminating Indy in six games, and Pierce’s trash-talking dagger was undoubtedly the key moment in the series. The play perfectly embodied the extreme confidence and the swagger that The Truth emanated throughout his career.
5. The Last Shot
Feb. 5, 2017 is a date that will forever hold a special place in the hearts of Boston fans. Not only was it the day that the New England Patriots completed their historic, title-winning comeback over the Atlanta Falcons; it was also the day that Paul Pierce gave his dramatic farewell to Celtics Nation.
Pierce entered the afternoon having not appeared in a game since New Year’s Eve, but LA Clippers head coach Doc Rivers inserted him into starting lineup so that the soon-to-be-retired legend could be introduced one more time in front of Celtics Nation.
Pierce played the opening five minutes of the first quarter and shot 0-for-1 during that span before Rivers subbed him out of the game for what appeared to be the final time. However, the fans inside TD Garden chanted Pierce’s name relentlessly throughout the remainder of the contest, and finally Rivers gave in.
With 19 seconds left in the game and the Clippers trailing 106-99, Rivers motioned Pierce over the scorers’ table. When he checked in he was met with a roaring ovation, and he responded with a shot for the ages.
Fans stood on their feet as Rivers’ son Austin dribbled up the floor; they all knew he would dish it off to Pierce once he reached center court. Sure enough, Pierce was fed the ball at the top of the arc. He then turned, stepped into his shot and pulled the trigger.
It’s worth noting that Pierce had never gone scoreless at TD Garden, and he wasn’t about to let that change in his final game.
The high-arcing shot fell through the net, which prompted Celtics fans inside TD Garden to erupt into pandemonium. Pierce backpedaled, while smiling with his arm raised in the air in one final salute to his faithful fans.
The roaring applause continued well after the final buzzer as Pierce took his time leaving the parquet floor for the last time.
4. The Historic Comeback
Pierce, like any NBA player, occasionally suffered a shooting slump. What set him apart from others was his ability to snap out of a cold spell mid-game and catch fire.
Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals was the perfect example of that.
Pierce missed 12 of his first 14 shots during Boston’s series-tiebreaking matchup with the New Jersey Nets. The entire Celtics squad was struggling, as it trailed by as many 26 points during the third quarter and entered the fourth frame down 74-53.
It seemed like an impossible deficit to overcome – in fact, no team in postseason history had ever come back from a 21-point fourth-quarter disadvantage. Up until this point, playoff teams were 171-0 when heading into the final frame with a lead of 19 points or more.
Boston, under the leadership of its captain, was about to change that.
Pierce opened up the fourth quarter with a baseline, driving layup and never looked back. He went on a tear, scoring 19 points during the final frame on 6-of-7 shooting from the field. His point total during the quarter eclipsed the point total of the entire Nets team, as the Celtics outscored them 41-16 during the final 12 minutes en route to an improbable 94-90 win.
The Celtics took a 2-1 lead in the series, but never won again after that. Regardless, the historic performance will still go down as one of Pierce’s most memorable efforts of all time.
3. The Truth Takes Down The King
Of the 126 Game 7s that have taken place in NBA history, none have featured an individual battle quite like the 2008 Eastern Conference Semifinals showdown between Paul Pierce and LeBron James.
With a trip to the conference finals on the line, it was anticipated that the rival superstars would bring their A-Game to the series finale. And boy, did they, as Pierce and James traded bucket after bucket to combine for 86 points.
The Cavaliers, who trailed by 10 at halftime pulled within three points during the closing minutes of the game, thanks to James’ 45-point effort. Pierce, however, had more ice in his veins, and the Celtics let him take over to close out the game.
In Kevin Garnett’s words, “It was get Paul Pierce the ball and get the hell out of the way.”
Pierce hit 13 shots on 23 attempts from the field, but his biggest make came during the closing seconds of the game from the free throw line.
The Celtics were up 95-92 with 7.9 seconds remaining when their captain was intentionally fouled. His first attempt clanked off the back of the rim and caromed straight up in air, allowing Cleveland’s hopes to remain alive; however, the ball miraculously made it through the hoop on its way down, causing Pierce to laugh in disbelief.
That shot helped seal a 97-92 win and a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals. It also gave Pierce a personal win in the greatest individual showdown of his career, and arguably the greatest one-on-one battle in Game 7 history.
2. The Wheelchair Game
Boston’s 2008 NBA title dreams were nearly crushed during Game 1 of the Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers when Pierce suffered what appeared to be a severe leg injury.
Pierce collapsed to the parquet floor with 6:49 left in the third quarter after trying to defend a Kobe Bryant drive. He rolled around under the basket, clutching his right knee in agony for several moments before Boston’s medical staff surrounded him.
Pierce was unable to put any weight on the leg, so Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine and team doctor Brian McKeon carried him off the court, placed him in a wheelchair and wheeled him to the locker room.
The energy at TD Garden immediately dulled as the Celtics were tasked with overcoming a four-point deficit without their captain. Boston’s title hopes hung in the balance as fans feared for the worst.
It didn’t take long for that to change.
Just a few minutes after the injury, Pierce half-jogged, half limped his way out of the tunnel to an outstanding ovation from Celtics Nation. He returned to the floor at the 5:03 mark of the third quarter – less than two minutes after his scary fall took place – and immediately made an impact.
With the Celtics trailing 71-69, Pierce hit back-to-back 3-pointers to give them a four-point lead. Those two shots sent the Boston crowd into a frenzy, and their energy allowed the C’s to head into the fourth quarter with momentum.
Pierce went on to score five more points during the fourth quarter, and helped pave the way to a 98-88 Game 1 win. His resilience was the driving force for the victory, and it ended up being a major spark on Boston’s title run.
1. Bringing Banner 17 to Boston
Through his first nine seasons in Boston, Pierce had all the makings of becoming a Celtics Legend. But one thing was missing that all of the greats before him had attained: An NBA title.
Following the 2006-07 season, when the team went 24-58 it appeared that Pierce was far from reaching his title dreams. However, the team made a massive splash during the ensuing offseason by acquiring Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen. With those two future hall-of-famers at Pierce’s side, the Celtics were immediately thrust into the conversation for championship contention.
The Big 3 of Pierce, Garnett and Allen helped guide the 2007-08 Celtics to 66-16 regular season record, which marked the biggest single-season turnaround in NBA history. They then grinded through two seven-game series in the first and second round of the Playoffs, followed by a six-game conference finals series with Detroit, before finally meeting their archrival Los Angels Lakers in the Finals.
The Celtics took a 3-2 series lead and then proceeded to annihilate the Lakers, 131-92, in a title-clinching, Game 6 victory, which marked the franchise’s 17th NBA championship. Pierce tallied a double-double with 17 points and 10 assists on the night, and finished the series with an average of 21.8 points and 6.3 assists per game.
After the final whistle blew, Pierce was handed the Finals MVP trophy, joining Havlicek, Jo Jo White, Cedric Maxwell and Larry Bird as the only Celtics to receive the honor. He pumped the trophy high in the air as he solidified his claim as a Celtics Legend.