For Pierce, Opening Night Proves Emotional

Red Auerbach Parquet

Paul Pierce - unsure about his future as a Celtic just three months ago - was a bit overwhelmed with the response the team received on Opening NIght.Elsa/NBAE/Getty

By Peter F. Stringer
November 3, 2007

BOSTON - He'd already admitted several times that he didn't know if he'd make it through the summer as a Boston Celtic.

So it probably didn't hit him until he stepped out to center court. But when he took the microphone at center court to address the crowd, before Friday night's win over the Washington Wizards, it was clear 20 rows from the floor.

Paul Pierce was clearly choked up.

"The only thing I wish is that Red could have been here," Pierce said after the game in his press conference. "You know, I'm at a place right now in my career; I couldn't ask for anything better. I'm in my tenth year, I have a great supporting cast. I want to finish my career a Boston Celtics; this has got to be our run."

The meaning of the moment wasn't lost on Pierce's teammates.

"You could see it on his face, man. It damn near brought tears to his eyes," center Kendrick Perkins said after the Celtics locker room had mostly cleared out. "I think everybody kind of felt the same way. You could feel it in the locker room."

Two blockbuster trades over the summer -- you may have heard we got Ray Allen and Kevin Garnett -- not only revitalized the franchise. They gave Pierce a much-needed shot in the arm after he suffered through several injuries of his own, witnessed an 18-game losing streak and spent some serious introspection time in the offseason wondering if it was time to move on.

But Pierce is happier, healthier, and according to Doc Rivers, more intense than ever thanks to the arrival of Garnett and Allen.

Pierce thanked the sellout crowd of 18,624 that for sticking with him for "10 long years, through the good times and the bad" and vowed that the team was ready to "turn it around."

That turnaround appears to be underway, and the Celtics didn't waste much time. The TD Banknorth Garden even felt like the old barn that used to stand on Causeway Street, thanks to a palpable buzz and some pregame pyrotechnics that left a smoky haze in the air through most of the first half. And a raucous crowd was rocking throughout the night, heckling Gilbert Arenas early by either calling his name or simply booing his every touch of the ball.

Pierce scored just four points in his first nine minutes of play, and the Celtics lead 21-18 after one period. But he played all but 18 seconds of the second quarter, and half of that time was spent with the Celtics second unit. Together with Tony Allen, Brian Scalabrine, Scot Pollard and Eddie House, Pierce and the C's outscored the Wizards 37-18 in the quarter to build a 22-point halftime lead. Pierce had all of his offense working, scoring 15 points in the quarter.

"We're just trying to keep Paul with the second unit so that they have a go-to guy every time," Coach Doc Rivers said. "Paul knows that his time."

Wizards Coach Eddie Jordan said after the game that he "didn't have the right matchup off the bench for Pierce," and you have to think that if The Truth continues to play similar minutes alongside the reserves, coaches around the league will suffer the consequences, if you will.

Pierce went on to finish with 28 points, while KG had a monster game in his official Celtics debut: 22 points and 20 rebounds. Allen also acquitted himself nicely with a 17-point performance.

So when Pierce walked off the floor alongside Garnett and Allen, with a finger pointed skyward with 2:30 remaining and a 98-76 lead, it was official. The new era is officially underway.

Peter Stringer covers the team for You can send him