An emo­tional farewell

Clip­pers veteran Paul Pierce makes his fi­nal ap­pear­ance in Bos­ton

Cape Breton Post - - SPORTS - BY JIMMY GOLEN THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

With a deaf­en­ing cheer and a shout of “Let’s go, Pats,” Paul Pierce was back in Bos­ton on Su­per Bowl Sun­day to give Celtics fans one last chance to cel­e­brate the player who helped the NBA’s most-dec­o­rated fran­chise re­turn to the top of the league.

Re­stored to the Los An­ge­les Clip­pers’ start­ing lineup by cur­rent and for­mer coach Doc Rivers, Pierce was greeted with a long and loud ova­tion at his in­tro­duc­tion, when the new Bos­ton Gar­den rang out again with his nick­name: The Truth. A high­light video at the first time­out ap­peared to bring him to tears.

“I’m glad Doc was able to get me out there one last time, know­ing that this would be my last game as a player in the Bos­ton Gar­den,” Pierce said af­ter sign­ing au­to­graphs be­fore the game. “I’m just soak­ing it all in, en­joy­ing ev­ery mo­ment of it, giv­ing it back to the fans what they gave me.”

A first-round draft pick out of Kansas in 1998, Pierce toiled in Bos­ton through the down years of M.L. Carr and Rick Pitino, watch­ing as the once-proud team lost a fran­chise-record 18 games in a row while he was in­jured in 2006-07. The next year, af­ter the Celtics ac­quired Kevin Gar­nett and Ray Allen, Bos­ton won its NBA-record 17th cham­pi­onship, and Pierce was the fi­nals MVP.

But as the New Big Three aged, gen­eral man­ager Danny Ainge traded them - and Rivers - off for the draft choices that would help them re­build. Pierce spent time in Brook­lyn and Wash­ing­ton be­fore re­unit­ing with Rivers in Los An­ge­les.

“The mem­o­ries are al­ways go­ing to be with me,” Pierce said. “(I will) al­ways have a re­la­tion­ship with these guys; it’s just some­thing that when you win a cham­pi­onship, you know it forms a nat­u­ral bond with you and your team­mates that you share with each other for­ever. And so I’ll for­ever hold that.”

Pierce’s No. 34 Celtics jer­seys filled the crowd - more even than the Pa­tri­ots shirts worn by fans look­ing to rush home af­ter the game to watch the foot­ball team play At­lanta in the Su­per Bowl. Dur­ing a silent mo­ment in na­tional an­them, a shout came from the stands: “Let’s go, Pats!”

Fans held up signs thank­ing Pierce for his time in Bos­ton. He left as the No. 2 scorer in fran­chise his­tory and No. 3 in games, min­utes, and bas­kets made.

Pierce spent Satur­day vis­it­ing some old Bos­ton favourites and record­ing it - in­clud­ing a chance en­counter with cur­rent Celtics all-star Isa­iah Thomas - on In­sta­gram.

Even walk­ing into the build­ing, Pierce said, gave him chills.

“When you spend 15 years in one place, it’s hard to let it go,” he said. “When you come back to it, you just kind of go around and rem­i­nisce about it and en­joy the time that I had here.”

Pierce, 39, hadn’t played since Dec. 31 and has ap­peared in just 12 games this sea­son for the Clip­pers. Rivers said he went to the team first to ask if it was OK.

“They were look­ing at me like, ‘What a dumb ques­tion,”’ Rivers said. “They wanted him to start, which I thought was great.”

Pierce played the first five min­utes and missed the first shot of the game. He was still 0 for 1 when went to the bench at the first time­out. (He did not re­turn in the first half, and early in the sec­ond the Gar­den crowd broke into a chant of “We want Paul!”)

But that didn’t dampen the emo­tion of the high­light video that fol­lowed him from Kansas to the draft, show­ing him pos­ing with Celtics pa­tri­arch Red Auerbach, hit­ting game-win­ning bas­kets and rais­ing the NBA cham­pi­onship and fi­nals MVP tro­phies.

The sold-out Gar­den stood and cheered for more than a minute. Pierce waved, blew kisses to the crowd and ap­peared to lose his com­po­sure, tak­ing sev­eral deep breaths and wip­ing his eyes with a towel.

“I spent 15 years here, and these peo­ple re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate what I was able to bring to the game,” he said be­fore the game. “So it is, it is like my go­ing-out mo­ment.”

AP PHOTO

Los An­ge­les Clip­pers for­ward Paul Pierce, left, poses for a photo with a fan be­fore an NBA game Sun­day against the Bos­ton Celtics in Bos­ton.

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