The moments stack up, like books that have no room on a full bookshelf, detailing the 19-year Hall of Fame career of Paul Pierce.
- The game he dropped 41 points on the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2008.
- The playoff triple-double (32 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) against the New Jersey Nets.
- The several one-on-one battles with LeBron James.
- The bizarre time he was taken off the court in a wheelchair with 6:52 left in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 Finals. It looked like Pierce was hurt so badly that he wouldn’t be able to return. But he came running back to the bench from the locker room with 5:30 left in the third quarter.
Those Pierce memories range from funny to serious, and sometimes both funny and serious at the same time such as the day his winning shot for the Washington Wizards went in off the glass against the Atlanta Hawks two seasons ago.
Asked if he called bank, Pierce said, “I called game.”
Pierce had game.
No more NBA games for Pierce, whose season and NBA career is over after the Utah Jazz eliminated the Los Angeles Clippers from the playoffs. Pierce announced at the start of the season this was his final season. He indicated in mid-October that he planned to sign a symbolic contract with the Celtics to officially retire.
Nicknamed The Truth, Pierce finished his career 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with 26,397 points, is 24th in field goals made (8,668), 15th in games played (1,343) and 15th in minutes played (45,880). He is fourth in three-pointers made (2,143) and eighth in made free throws (6,918).
His impeccable footwork, knowledge of the game and shooting stroke made him an elite scorer, and he finished in the top-10 in scoring five times. When he had it going, Pierce was a joy to watch.
Boston Celtics forward Paul Pierce (34) talks with forward Kevin Garnett (5), guard Rajon Rondo (9) and center Kendrick Perkins (43) during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers in game three in the eastern conference semifinals in 2010. (Photo: Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE, US PRESSWIRE)
Pierce, a 10-time All-Star and 2008 Finals MVP, was also reliable. Not including this season, in which he barely played, Pierce played in 92.3% of his team’s games. Just before the 2000-01 season, Pierce was stabbed multiple times in a bar fight, and he needed surgery. He played in all 82 games that season.
The numbers and awards are nice but don’t tell the complete story.
Pierce lived for competition. He did most of his work (15 seasons) with the Celtics, who drafted him from Kansas, and won a title with Boston in 2008. He also played for Brooklyn, Washington and the Clippers.
“That is one of my greatest strengths. I am not afraid to face challenges or any matchup in the league,” Pierce said during the 2014 playoffs.
His teams made the playoffs 14 times, and even when James’ Heat took over the East, Pierce didn’t back down. While it looked personal at times with James, Pierce said it wasn’t. “We are aiming for the same prize and only one of you can get it,” he said.
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It’s his Boston days that will be remembered most. He respected Celtics lore, but wasn’t overwhelmed by it.
Before Game 7 of the 2010 Finals against the Lakers, Pierce said, “I just love the pressure, truthfully, man. I love the fact that I get to play against the Los Angeles Lakers in a Game 7 on the road. I love the fact that if I don’t win multiple championships that I probably won’t be mentioned amongst the other guys in Celtics history who’ve done it before. That type of stuff motivates me.”
He may not be mentioned in the same way Bill Russell and those other Celtics stars of the 1950s and 1960s are, but Pierce is a Celtics great.
He grew up Inglewood, Calif., not far from where the Showtime Lakers played at the Forum. As a high school student, Pierce awoke before dawn to practice.
“Who wants to wake up at 5:30 to go to the gym? I know nowadays I don’t,” Pierce told USA TODAY Sports during the 2008 Finals. “But then you were a kid who had dreams and tried to develop a work ethic.”
Pierce had dreams, and he was fortunate to live them.
Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.