Pierce Drills Final Shot In Emotional Farewell To Boston
BOSTON – The nerves and chills overtaking Paul Pierce as he walked into TD Garden for the final time turned to tears five minutes into Sunday afternoon’s game, as the camera panned to the former Celtics legend following a nearly three-minute tribute video after the first timeout.
Pierce, who stuck with the Celtics for 15 standout years and brought a title to Boston, received a hero’s welcome.
He signed every autograph. He took pictures with every fan he could, most of them decked out in a Kansas or a Celtics or a Clippers Pierce jersey. He absorbed every second of what he called his “appreciation day” and “last goodbye” before taking the court.
“This is something I truly felt tonight, an appreciation of what I’ve been able to give this city and what they’ve been able to give me,” Pierce said.
With the Clippers giving him the start in his last game as a player in Boston, he managed to hold it together through the standing ovation during pregame introductions.
But with the tribute video and the subsequent response he received, the memories came flooding back. Sunday afternoon marked 19 years to the day Pierce first took the court for the Celtics in 1999, and it was that moment he thought back to as he waved to the raucous crowd in the city he called home for the majority of his career.
His eyes red and welled up, a towel around his neck, all the emotions of the grand stage overwhelmed Pierce as the cheers and the chants continued to crescendo even after the tribute ended. Pierce’s hands went from waving in the air to sitting on his hips, as he used the towel to wipe his eyes and took a seat.
“I’ve never felt anything like this,” Pierce said. “I truly appreciate my time here, I truly appreciate tonight. Fans really showered me with a lot of love…Everywhere I looked, I saw Pierce shirts and posters. It was beautiful to watch.”
Pierce’s NBA career won’t end for months, but to him, this was the real goodbye.
And, as it turned out, it was just the beginning of that goodbye.
Pierce joked before the game he’s “been on ice” for a month, having not played in a game since the end of 2016. Had his day ended after the first five minutes Sunday afternoon, he’d still look back on the farewell fondly.
But this was Boston, where he’s made plenty of magic happen before, and it was only right he’d get another chance to make one final mark.
“My game plan was to start him – I told him it was ‘Senior Night,’” head coach Doc Rivers quipped. “Then, after that, depending on the situation, I told my coaches we’d put him back in…It turned out to be the right situation.”
The Boston fans egged Rivers on all game to put Pierce back in. With the game close enough to go either way until the final minutes, it seemed possible Pierce’s first five minutes would be his last.
But with the Celtics taking a six-point lead heading to the line with 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter, the result was a foregone conclusion and the moment was there for Pierce to get one last shot.
Pierce checked in as the crowd roared. He set a pick for Austin Rivers, received the pass as he popped, and – as he’d done so many times through his 10 All-Star campaigns and 15 seasons in Boston – he pulled the trigger on a long 3-point attempt.
In just his second shot of the night, after sitting for 43 minutes, Pierce’s final shot in Boston went straight through.
It was an extraordinary moment, recognized by Pierce’s teammates, his coaches and by everyone in the building. The shot sent an already noisy Celtics crowd into a boisterous celebration.
“There’s not many guys that have played in this league that mean as much to a city as Paul Pierce means to Boston,” said Blake Griffin. “To be able to be a part of that and to see that up close, it’s pretty special.”
Pierce had already kissed Lucky, the Celtics’ leprechaun logo, at half court as a final goodbye. But this shot was the encore, the lasting memory of a player who will go down as one of the most beloved sports figures in one of the most prolific sports city’s history.
“I’m happy I was able to get one last shot – to step on the court, get one last shot, bury it, give the fans something, wave to the crowd, kiss Lucky,” Pierce said. “I’m happy. I’m satisfied. I can put it all to rest now.”
Rivers, who coached Pierce to his Celtics title in 2008, said that shot could’ve only happened in Boston.
Despite the loss, Rivers said it has to help the Clippers in the long run to see what it’s like to be treated like a champion the way Pierce was Sunday afternoon. As Rivers talked about the grandeur of the day, he started to get emotional at his postgame press conference.
It wasn’t the first time Sunday afternoon that happened for Rivers, whose emotions built before the game as he addressed his players and gave them some advice.
“When you finish your career, remember what’s going to happen in five minutes,” Rivers told his team. “All of you aren’t going to be Hall of Famers, but just make sure when you finish your career, you’re empty. Like, you’ve done everything you can do, and you walk away with no regrets. “I told them to look at Paul, and I said, ‘That’s what he’s doing tonight. He’s empty. He can walk away from the game with no regrets. He gave it all, and if I have one goal for every player in the locker room – I told them – that’s my goal for you guys. Just leave it empty.’”