Truth - Jared Wickerham
Still crafty after all these years, Paul Pierce can still get in the zone and light up the scoreboard.
35 years, 67 days.
That makes Pierce the oldest player in Celtics history to hit the 40-point mark in regulation. Some guy named Larry Bird did it in double-overtime against the Trailblazers back in March of 1992 at the age of 35 years, 99 days.
For longtime Celtics fans, the idea of Pierce going for 40-plus points isn't a shock. Wednesday marked his 21st time accomplishing the feat over his career. It's been over 12 years since Pierce recorded his first 40-plus night - a 41-point, seven-rebound performance at home against the Orlando Magic on Nov. 24, 2000, and he showed Wednesday night that he's still got it.
On a night where the Celtics needed to be carried on the offensive end, Pierce put them on his back.
"You have a stall like that [on the road trip], you want to come home, do whatever you can, get a win," Pierce said. "It's a make or miss league. Who knows I was going to come in and shoot the ball the way I did, but the one thing I could control was how hard I was going to play today and the effort I was going to put out."
It wasn't as if Pierce had a feeling that he'd go off coming into this one. Heck, the team barely got off the plane before tip-off. His coach had no idea either.
"Paul is the toughest guy to read," Doc Rivers said. "He never takes the same shot, he doesn't even have the same release for them. No kid should watch that. Watch his free throws, he takes them from different angles. You never know when he's got it going because he's just tough to read."
Pierce, who played 33-and-a-half minutes in the game, got it going especially in the third quarter when he shot a perfect 7-for-7 and scored 17 points. The Celtics held a lead by as many as 20 points.
"I feel like the last few games I've been shooting the ball a lot better, three or four games now," Pierce said. "So I'm feeling like I'm really coming along where I'm starting to get into a good groove offensively. The way my shot's going, picking my spots. So even before tonight I felt good."
So, Paul, what's it like to be "in the zone" like you were Wednesday night?
"It's hard to really explain it. You feel good, you feel like everything you do, everything you shoot is going to go in. You want the ball."
And his teammates wanted to give him the ball. Jason Terry has long been on the opposing side of things when Paul Pierce goes off. But tonight he got to experience it as Pierce's teammate. The respect for Pierce has been there long before Terry put on the Green and White.
"He's a Hall of Famer; he's a champion," Terry said. "He's one of the greatest Celtics to put on a uniform and that's saying a lot. Obviously you know ... one day his jersey will be up there in the rafters. Not a lot of guys in this league stay in one franchise. You can count them on your hand right now. There's not many that are superstars, that have been in the league 12, 13 years and he's one of them."
It's actually been 15 seasons as a member of the Boston Celtics for Pierce. He's tied for having the fifth longest one-team tenure in NBA history (Kobe Bryant, 18, Tim Duncan, 16, Dirk Nowitzki, 15, only active players tied or ahead of him). While Kevin Garnett may be the first face that pops into a lot of Celtics fans heads, it's Pierce's face that pops into the heads of those who suffered along with him through the years leading up to KG's arrival. It wasn't always pretty, and there was a point where Pierce forced the hand of ownership to fix things, but the fact that he stayed says a lot about him to not only fans but fellow NBA players like Terry.
"His hard work and dedication," Terry said, "his willingness to stick through the tough times and not just jump off, 'I'm out of here! I'm going to join forces with Kobe,' or 'I'm going to play with Dwyane Wade' - that's a shot right there - 'I'm gonna tough it out.' I think that's what guys look at and respect him."
Respect is something earned, not given. Pierce has more than earned it over his Hall of Fame career, and while he doesn't need a 40-point night to remind people how good he was and still is, it's nice to have a night like that to reflect back on the work put in to get there.
"You know when I first got into the league, I always asked myself, if I wanted to be good, if I wanted to be great," Pierce said. "Every time I stepped up and worked on my game. That's the question I asked, how good did I want to be...working on my craft as hard as I could because I wanted to be one of the great players. And that's the same hard work I feel I've put in over the years."
Wednesday marked Pierce's 1,050 career regular season game. At 35 years, 67 days, you start to wonder when he'll hang them up. Then again...
"I think maybe I can play a little longer than anticipated," he said. "Who knows?"