By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- In Boston, Paul Pierce is a legend. He'll forever be remembered for being one of the most important pieces of the franchise's 17th title, and the face of the Celtics for 15 seasons, an imperfect superstar for a franchise that desperately needed one.
There were some really dark days in Pierce's 15 seasons in green, but even in those times, Pierce was a bright spot. He never shied away from the big moment and he always seemed to get to his spot for a clutch shot. And when he was hot, there was very little defenses could do to simmer him down. Just ask Al Harrington (Pierce finished with 37 points in that playoff game), Chris Bosh, or LeBron James.
Pierce was a true gamer, eager to engage on defense with the best scorers in the league. He was tough, as illustrated when he returned to the floor just two months after he was nearly killed in a stabbing before his third NBA season. And most importantly, he is a champion. His No. 34 hangs in the TD Garden rafters along with that 2008 championship banner, in which he earned Finals MVP honors.
On Saturday, Pierce's likeness will join the collection of other greats of the game in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
It's easy for Celtics fans to understand why Pierce is heading to Springfield, but outside of Boston, he is not seen in such a positive light. Those who don't bleed green harshly see Pierce as a bit of a crybaby wannabe, something that has led to some interesting hot takes in his post-playing career as an analyst. When he was playing, they only remember the wheelchair game in the 2008 finals. Those outsiders only saw him as someone who always wanted to be as good as Kobe and LeBron, but never rose to that level.
And that is true. Pierce was never either of those guys. He was never the most feared scorer in the NBA and he was never the best all-around player to grace the hardwood. He was usually sitting on the cusp of greatness, but more often settled into the "really, really freakin' good" stanza.
But that mattered little to Pierce. His goal was never to be Kobe or Lebron, but to beat Kobe and LeBron. And he did that throughout his career, defeating both en route to that Celtics title in 2008.
That was the year it all clicked for Pierce. The Celtics finally surrounded him with some additional star power by adding Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, and Pierce had no issue with giving Garnett the top of the totem pole. While Pierce may have been the team's leader in terms of scoring, Garnett was the heartbeat. Pierce got the glory of taking -- and making -- the big shots, but Garnett was the man who changed the pulse of the franchise.
That shouldn't be a knock on Pierce. He had been clamoring for some more help for years, when it was clear that he alone couldn't put the team on his shoulders and lead them back to the promised land. It wasn't from a lack of trying, either. Pierce was simply incredible for a seven-year stretch from 2000-2007, when he averaged nearly 25 points per game and made five All-Star squads. He led the league in points scored in 2001-02. That postseason, he took a team that had no business making a deep playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals, and orchestrated one of the greatest playoff comebacks over the New Jersey Nets. He did so with Antoine Walker missing a truckload of shots and no real supporting cast outside of an aging Kenny Anderson and sharpshooter Rodney Rodgers.
Unfortunately for Pierce, dark days were ahead after that surprising run to the conference finals. There were regrettable moments as well, like his jersey-swinging ejection from Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semis in 2005, which saw Pierce wrap a towel around his head to show how he had been "mugged" by the Indiana Pacers throughout the contest. His posturizing for officials didn't work, as the Celtics were eliminated a few nights later. It was not the best of looks for Boston's franchise star.
After clashing with Doc Rivers upon the coach's hiring -- the fourth head coach Pierce had played for in Boston -- those bumpy roads had finally led to a fork. And for a time, Pierce wanted to take the path that led out of Boston.
Instead, Danny Ainge went out and traded for Garnett and Allen, and the rest is history. With new running mates that were also destined for Springfield, Pierce and the Celtics were off and running. They won just the single title, and should have won more, but they were always in the mix. Garnett's injury in 2009 ended any hopes of a repeat, and the Celtics came up short in their rematch against the Lakers in 2010. An aging Celtics team had another shot when they took LeBron and the Miami Heat to seven games in 2012, but James' big three was too much for them to handle.
But whether it was LeBron in Cleveland, LeBron in Miami, Kobe in Los Angeles or any of the other superstars of the league, Pierce was always going to give them one heck of a fight. Backing down and kissing anyone's ring(s) was not how he operated. That followed him in the final years of his career, when he kept hitting big shots for the likes of the Nets, Wizards and, occasionally, the Clippers in his final year. It's that spirit that defines Pierce more than anything else.
Plain and simple, he is The Truth. Or as Shaq tabbed way back in 2001, "the [expletive deleted] TRUTH!" Everything he did he did it his way, and anyone who told him to do otherwise were left in his dust, much like defenders who tried to stop his explosive drives to the basket throughout his career. If he had the choice to run through a wall or go around it, Pierce always put his head down and powered through the challenge.
Whatever the outside world thinks of him won't matter much after Saturday. And it doesn't matter if we here in Boston are a little biased with No. 34. Paul Pierce will soon become a basketball Hall of Famer, and no one can take that away from him.
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