Paul Pierce/Celtics Points
Back in the day the Boston Globe had a contest to determine the eventual nickname of Paul Pierce, “The Truth”. My submission was “Pauly Prime Time”, because he was easily the most clutch player I’d ever seen don the legendary green and white. Sure, I watched Larry Bird at the end of his career but I (along with my entire generation) was too young to really appreciate the great Bird/McHale/Parish teams. For us Celtic pride was a concept passed down through anecdotes and mementos. We were told stories of triumph about the Celtics of the 80s, but after the ’86 title (the Green’s last to date) those stories turned tragic. The sudden deaths of Len Bias in ’86 (cocaine overdose) and Reggie Lewis in ’93 (heart failure) assured the Celtics of their first prolonged fling with futility in the history of the franchise. For the older generations this was a hard pill to swallow. 16 championships in 30 years gave way to multiple seasons in the mid 90s that saw the Celtics trot out the likes of Dino Radja and Dana Barros as “franchise players”.
From total greatness to total insignificance went the Celtics in less than a decade. I grew up during this period of insignificance; watched the Celtics during the week on local television and waited for the NBA on NBC to show me some real basketball on Sundays. I then watched a crazy-eyed college coach take over the team, infuse it with players from his former school, and drive it even further into the ground. When he finally exited his legacy was left in a sound bite. Thing was, we already knew that Bird, Parish and McHale weren’t going to be making miracle comebacks in the late 90s; we just happened to have a coach who was pompous enough to employ that mode of justification for his team’s failure. Maybe if in his inaugural press conference Rick Pitino had opted to tell us who was going to be “walking through that door” (namely Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and the rest of the freakin Kentucky Wildcats) we would’ve been better prepared for what was to come.
Either way it wasn’t until we drafted a sleek shooter out of Kansas in ’98 that I even started to comprehend what it meant to have a guy who could fill up a box score, put a team on his back and inspire the masses. In Paul we found that guy. All he had was Antoine, but the two meshed well together, enjoyed the city they played in and brought some relevance back to an ever-fading tradition. Then some pieces of s–t tried to take that away from us in 2001, tried to murder our first star in more than ten years. Not only did they fail, not only did Paul survive 11 stab wounds but he returned to lead the Celtics to 49 wins and their first birth in the playoffs since Larry Legend. They won nine games that postseason, all thanks to Paul. His surreal decisive-Game 5 (46 points) in the first round against Allen Iverson and the 76ers was one-upped only by his pantheon performance in the Fleet Center’s first Eastern Conference Finals game against New Jersey. In that contest the Celtics entered the fourth quarter trailing by 21 points. Paul responded by playing the most jaw-dropping 12 minutes of basketball I’ve ever seen, slashing into that deficit with 19 points of his own to win the game and snag a slice of history. That one playoff run, with those two games intertwined, was good enough to place Paul at the top of lists in Celtics-record books co-populated by some of the greatest and most prolific champions in the history of the game.
2002 was the year I became a true Celtics fan; the year when history and lore met reality head on. We had a guy who if complemented by the right player, could and most definitely would lead us to that elusive 17th championship. Of course being a realist and having a decent grasp on the state of the game I knew there was obviously no chance Shaq would bolt LA for Beantown, same for Duncan and Garnett from their respective cities. But I knew something would happen, someone would be brought in so at the very least we’d be given the chance to continue to be exhilarated by this young superstar. It took him only a handful of games in the ’02 playoffs to make a decisive case for his meriting a co-star, a fixture with which to coexist for years to come. Five years and five great “Pauly Prime” seasons later, I found myself still waiting. I found myself defiling sports “fandom” by rooting for my team to lose, if only to have a better chance at winning some bogus lottery. Then when all went wrong I found myself feeling..not distraught, not demoralized or crappy, just feeling. I was feeling for Paul. It all came in a wave, the realization of how unfair it all was. This guy, who had given and endured so much to stay true to the city and tradition that took him in, was now inexplicably himself feeling the dusk of his career start to settle in just over the horizon.
It was then that I decided this: to hell with “the future”; screw “down the road”. Even if philosophically it contradicts everything Danny Ainge has done since arriving in Boston I still don’t care. It’s already a shame that Paul has played nine seasons in Boston and has had a total of one contending team around him. It would go down as an utter travesty if that number stayed the same throughout seasons 10 through 13 of Paul’s career. So that’s why I endorsed wholesaling our youth for Kevin Garnett, because each year of KG/Paul would represent 50 wins and who knows what else. And that’s why I’m on the Ray Allen for Delonte West, Wally Szczerbiak and the 5th-bandwagon. From what I’ve heard and read the city of Boston is pretty much split down the middle on this one, but the bulk of the negativity is driven by the sports radio juggernauts who hold way too much sway over popular opinion in the town. Many of them are very high on the player the Celtics drafted and gave to Seattle, Jeff Green (from Georgetown).
Allow me to assert that I had been lobbying for Jeff Green since we got hosed by the lottery while the likes of Corey Brewer and the Chinese guy were dominating the discussion. I’ve been a huge Big East fan and I’ve watched this kid for three years be constricted by the conservative brand of ball John Thompson III has brought back to the Hoyas’ system. Make no mistake; Jeff Green will be a dynamic and explosive player in this league but he never really had a chance to come out of his shell at Georgetown, and will need more maturation time than a guy like Brewer. So we deal him and two decent players for a soon-to-be 32 year old shooting guard with two reconstructed ankles. There’s your reason in a nutshell for the skepticism that exists.
Here’s the flip side to that coin: seven-time All Star; career 21.5 scoring average; career three point percentage of .397 (that last stat is best interpreted when juxtaposed with Antoine’s career .325). He’s a product of the Northeast as he spent three years at UConn and has maintained his roots (he’s already declared himself a Red Sox fan). Ray, like Paul, is coming off a stretch in his career where he wasn’t given a whole lot to work with in the jungle that is the West. Like Paul he never complained, always played with a smile on his face and continued being the long range assassin that he’s been since he took to the hardwood. And like Paul, he plays with a distinct passion and rises to the occasion when the occasion warrants it (translation: when the game’s on the line he wants that rock). All and all he’s the guy Paul deserves to have as his wingman and yes, while it would’ve been nice if this had happened five years ago, I have news for you: it didn’t. Nothing has happened in the past five years and no one knows that better than Paul. Furthermore, unlike colleagues of similar stature he’s never used his spotlight to shake down front offices and toss around ultimatums, and when he’s called for change he’s done so respectfully. Granted, at times he’s been angry, but he’s only human, not to mention a fierce competitor who tasted a morsel of postseason glory as an up and comer.
In this post-Jordan era where eight out of nine champions have had Shaq or Duncan, the idea of “building a championship team” is farcical. And in this day and age where one big acquisition can jettison a team from the bottom to the top of the sorry-East, and you just happen to be a reeling franchise with a superstar who’s been begging for a wingman, is it really a question? With a nucleus of Paul, Ray and one of the few emerging big men in the conference, Al Jefferson, the Atlantic division and a top-four seed is ripe for the taking. Does that mean number 17 is imminent? I would say not. But there’s got to be some middle ground between “rebuilding” and “championship caliber”, right? If not then someone should send the memo to ummmm EVERY TEAM IN THE EAST!!!
As I said before, to my generation the Celtics as they were previously known were nothing more than a myth with historical documentation. Paul pulled the franchise out of the sediment upon his arrival in ’98 and restored some relevance in ’02. He only had one opportunity to chase a championship and came up six games short. However the finest work of his basketball life has been done in the NBA Playoffs, on the legendary-parquet floor of the Boston Celtics, with 16 world championship banners hanging over his head. It may be a while before the Celtics capture that seventeenth but Paul’s time here is finite. And you know something? There’s a lot I would give to see Paul have the chance to win another nine playoff games. Wally and Jeff Green? Done and done.