It wasn’t supposed to happen Wednesday night. And if you ask Paul Pierce, reaching 20,000 points in a Boston Celtics uniform wasn’t likely to happen at all the way the team was struggling in the pre-KG era, when he was “disgruntled” and considering getting traded out of town. But not only did the Celtics captain reach it in a thrilling 105-102 overtime win over the Milwaukee Bucks, he did it in style, carrying the team on his back.
With turnovers and terrible shooting, the Celtics had just 62 points and trailed the Bucks by one entering the fourth quarter. Then the offense came together, with Rajon Rondo’s 17 points and 15 assists and Pierce’s 28 points leading the way through the end of regulation and OT.
It was Pierce, however, who stood out, outscoring the entire Bucks team 12 points to its 11 in OT, and knocking down key free throws in the closing seconds that sealed the deal for the Celtics win.
With the score 99-97 and 13.3 seconds left in OT, the entire TD Garden held its breath as Pierce knocked down the Celtics’ 100th point and the 20,000th point of his career. His right arm pointed upward in acknowledgment of his feat, which makes him only the 36th player in NBA history to reach the plateau, and just the third to do it all in the green jersey, joining all-time greats John Havlicek and Larry Bird.
“This was an emotional moment for me,” Pierce said after the game. He knew he needed 23 points to get to 20,000 Wednesday night, but with only 16 at the end of regulation, wasn’t sure he would get there.
The fact that he reached point 23 in OT and then added five more crucial points in what turned out to be a three-point victory is emblematic of Pierce’s career. He has always shined brightest late in games in his 12 years here, especially in the fourth quarter. Who can forget him leading the C’s to overcome a 21-point fourth quarter deficit to beat New Jersey in Game 3 of the 2002 Eastern Conference Finals and his explosive offense and diving defensive plays against the Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals?
Never the flashiest player on the court, he just gracefully soars by opponents and just scores, either on the play or at the free throw line. Such determination and success for this former NBA Finals MVP and four-time All-NBA selection has gotten Celtic great Tom Heinsohn to say “The Truth” is the best scorer to ever put on the Celtics uniform. That is high praise indeed, especially from someone who saw Havlicek and Bird play their entire careers in Boston.
Though Hondo was before my time, I did see enough of Larry Legend to know how great a clutch shooter he was. There was none better in that regard, for a Celtic. But as far as creating his own shot, taking the contact and getting his points in the paint and at the line, I’m inclined to agree with Heinsohn that Pierce is the best ever pure Celtics scorer, especially in my lifetime.
So congrats to Pierce for 20,000 and doing it all in a Celtics uniform. He has ensured a place in the Garden rafters for that #34 shirt of his to be retired someday.
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