Before he joined the Celtics via offseason trade nearly a year ago, Marcus Morris experienced all of four playoff games during his first six seasons in the NBA.
He made up for lost time over the past month-and-a-half, though, becoming a bit of a Boston crowd favorite amid an improbable postseason run that ended one victory away from The Finals.
But the physical, sometimes confrontational approach of Morris, a former Kansas standout, played a role in pushing James’ Cavaliers to the brink of elimination. Whether he was celebrating his own and-one, a teammate’s dunk or some hustle play that charged up the Celtics and their supporters, Morris screams and ensuing crowd eruptions became commonplace in Boston.
“This is probably the most I’ve ever screamed in my life,” Morris told a group of reporters while cracking a rare smile earlier this week, after the Celtics’ season concluded with a 4-3 conference finals loss to Cleveland. “I’m not really a big screamer. Off the court I am so much different than I am on the court. I just thought that there were times we needed that and they feed off it. So it was definitely a fun experience.”
Morris’ seven seasons in the NBA have taken him through Houston, Phoenix, Detroit and now Boston. He said he turned out to be “one of the fan favorites” at every stop except Phoenix. After averaging 12.4 points and 5.4 rebounds in 19 playoff games, Morris saw Celtics fans embracing him, antics and all.
“It was just a matter of time,” Morris said.
Following his first season with Boston, Morris felt grateful for the trade that sent him there from Detroit. Pointing to both a knee injury and a court case in which he and twin brother Markieff were acquitted of aggravated assault, Morris thought the regular season got off to a slow start.
“But gradually I found my way and became a big help for this team,” said Morris, who averaged 13.6 points and 5.4 rebounds in 26.8 minutes during the regular season. “Playing in Boston is special, man. I’ve been around a lot of places and Boston has definitely been my favorite.”
Although Morris has a year left on his contract, he doesn’t know whether he will be back with the Celtics for the 2018-19 season. If he and all of his teammates are healthy, it could be difficult for him to see as much playing time as he did this year.
While coach Brad Stevens could definitely find avenues to make sure Morris fits in the rotation, Boston would have Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown all playing in front of Morris. Throw in the fact that president of basketball operations Danny Ainge only kept four players in place from a team that reached the conference finals in 2017 and nothing about this off-season can be assumed.
Morris told the Boston Globe he’s heading into the summer unsure if he’ll still be with the organization by preseason training camp.
“There’s going to be a lot of players next year, so I’m not 100 percent sure where I fit totally yet,” Morris said. “It’s just something I’m still kind of wary about.”
Marcus Morris learned a new word following his team’s Tuesday victory over perennial Eastern Conference champion LeBron James and Cleveland.
After a physical Game 2 in the conference finals, Cavaliers coach Tyronn Lue described how Boston took a 2-0 lead.
“I think they're playing tougher than we are. We see that,” Lue said. “They're being physical. They're gooning the game up, and we've got to do the same thing. We've got to be tougher, mentally and physically.”
When media members presented Lue’s assessment to the Celtic who exudes his tough guy persona constantly on the court, Morris liked what he heard.
“Gooning? That’s a good word,” Morris told the Boston Herald. “(Expletive), we’re doing what it takes. Whatever it takes, every player 1-15, whatever it takes, that’s what we’re doing. You call it what you want to call it. We’re just trying to get the win.”
While Morris didn’t replicate his double-double production from Game 1 versus Cleveland, the former Kansas standout played a key role in a playoff victory yet again, contributing 12 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. Boston trailed by 7 at halftime before making a critical run in the third quarter. Morris came through with some timely plays during the push, including a 3-pointer that cut the Cavs’ lead to 2 less than four minutes into the second half and a crowd-igniting and-1 that tied the game at 69.
The seventh-year forward attacked Tristan Thompson off the dribble, and after drawing a foul that sent both bigs tumbling onto the baseline out of bounds, Morris roared in Thompson’s face while flexing.
The sequence quickly became a meme on NBA Twitter, but more importantly for the Celtics, it seemed to fuel the rest of the quarter, as the home team out-scored the three-time defending East champs by 14 in the third, paving the way for a 107-94 win.
As expected, the Celtics weren’t able to relatively shut down James in Game 2 after Morris and his “gooning” band of long, strong wings held the league’s brightest superstar to 15 points in Game 1. James torched Boston for 21 first-quarter points Tuesday and finished with 42.
However, Morris once again held his own when defending James. A change in Cleveland’s starting lineup meant Morris didn’t draw the assignment as often in the second go-round. Still, the numbers showed afterward that Morris’ defense impacted James’ effectiveness. Per ESPN, James scored 6 points on 2-for-8 shooting with 2 turnovers when guarded by Morris.
Now a Boston team without its two best players, injured Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, needs just two more victories to reach The Finals. But Game 3 in Cleveland isn’t until Saturday, and James has plenty of time to figure out ways to better carve up the Celtics’ defense.
Morris described his group as “very confident” at this juncture of the series.
“But we’re gonna stay humble, man,” he added. “The work is not done. We up 2-0. But we done seen crazier things happen. The goal is to go to Cleveland and at least steal one and come back and play in front of these great fans.”
The mere concept of successfully defending otherworldly NBA superstar LeBron James borders on laughable.
So plenty around The Association likely recalled their favorite eye-roll meme or GIF when Marcus Morris stated his belief leading up to Boston’s Eastern Conference Finals series with Cleveland that he’s “probably the best guy defending (James) in the league, outside of Kawhi (Leonard.)”
Prior to this postseason, Morris had experienced exactly four NBA playoff games since leaving Kansas for the pros in 2011. Tactfully, Morris at least made it clear while discussing his matchup with the four-time league MVP, aka “King James,” that it would take a full team effort to try and defend “the best player in this game.”
Surprisingly, at least in the aftermath of Game 1, Morris’ predictive assessment didn’t look completely insane. He started for the first time this postseason specifically to match up with James, and the Celtics took a 1-0 lead as the man who has played in seven straight NBA Finals registered personal 2018 postseason lows with 15 points, 31.3% shooting and 7 turnovers.
Morris, meanwhile, delivered a double-double performance (21 points, 10 rebounds). He was asked during Sunday’s post-game press conference why James doesn’t intimidate him.
“It's a team effort, man,” Morris replied. “It's not just me. Everybody played their part in guarding him. He's obviously the best player in the game, and you need multiple guys and a team to guard him an entire game. I just think we did a great job of that.”
While that appraisal seems dead on, ESPN’s Chris Forsberg shared some interesting advanced data on Morris vs. LeBron, via Second Spectrum. Morris defended James 39 times — the most of any defender — during Boston’s 108-83 win. The Cavs averaged 89.7 points per 100 possessions when Morris defended James, compared to Cleveland’s postseason average of 108 points per 100 possessions.
Morris said he looked forward to guarding James because of his competitive nature, and that “I’m going to be able to tell my kids this one day.” But the seventh-year forward didn’t necessarily notice a change in James’ approach because of the way he and Boston went about defending one of the game’s all-time greats.
While James didn’t dominate inside the way one might assume, his ability to attack the paint was hindered somewhat by the Cavs’ poor 3-point shooting (4 of 26). Obviously, Boston coach Brad Stevens wasn’t about to anoint Morris and his teammates as LeBron-stoppers.
“I thought by committee everybody worked hard. You just have to keep making it as hard as possible on LeBron. Easier said than done,” Stevens added. “He's obviously not going to have many games like that. Their shooters around him won't have many games like that. But I thought our guys were locked in.”
Al Horford credited Morris for embracing the impossible mission of checking James.
“Marcus is one of our leaders, and he's been a presence since the first day he got here,” Horford said of his 6-foot-9 teammate, still in his first season with Boston. “So I think that taking on this challenge is something that we expect out of him. We have his back out there. Like he said, we're doing it as a unit. It's not all on him. But you do have to give him credit for his focus and his commitment for the team.”
Could Morris be the man who keeps James from reaching his eighth straight NBA Finals? Probably not. I mean, why would anyone even ask that question or type it out?
The King, likely waiting to unleash countless retaliatory plays the remainder of the series, complimented his adversary following the Cavs’ loss.
“I thought they had great game plan Game 1. He was the start of it. He was my matchup, and I think they did a great job of communicating throughout the whole game, knowing where I was and knowing where our teammates was,” James said. “Brad and the coaching staff did a great job in Game 1. You commend that. We have an opportunity to look at a lot of film (Monday), and see ways they were making us uncomfortable, making myself off balance and not have a rhythm all game. So we'll be much better in Game 2.”
James added the first game of any series always doubles as a “feel-out game” for him, so he will adjust to the Celtics’ defense accordingly.
Translation: Morris might require the aid of all the leprechauns in TD Garden to get out of another game this series relatively unscathed by LeBron.
In the first three games of Philadelphia’s Eastern Conference semifinal matchup with Boston, star center Joel Embiid averaged 24.3 points and often became the focal point of his team’s offense. The problem with this particular approach for “The Process” was the Celtics entered Game 4 with a 3-0 lead.
In the former Kansas big man’s first playoff elimination game, Embiid and the Sixers took a different approach and, with the help of a career night from new starting guard T.J. McConnell, knocked off Boston to stay alive.
Leading up to Monday’s win-or-go-home outing for Philadelphia, both ESPN’s Zach Lowe and The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor pointed out the lack of success the Sixers had offensively when feeding Embiid in the post.
During the first three games of the series, when Embiid received the ball via post-up and shot — an approach welcomed by Boston, by not sending double-teams — the Sixers only produced 23 points on 42 such plays.
From the opening minutes of Game 4, Philadelphia clearly had a different agenda, showing a concerted effort to bring some variation to its offense, with more actions designed to free cutters headed for the paint and the Sixers opting to post up Dario Saric or Ben Simmons when a smaller Boston defender ended up on one of them. Philly didn’t force-feed Embiid and the rest of the team benefited as a result.
While the 24-year-old 7-footer only scored on 1 of 4 shots directly off his post-ups, Philadelphia actually fared far better on his post touches overall. During Embiid’s 35 minutes on the floor, he received the ball 10 times on post-ups and the Sixers scored on 5 of them, netting 11 points (1.1 points per possession).
Embiid finished with 15 points, 13 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 turnovers and looked comfortable deferring more often for the well-being of his team. The masked face of the franchise — or “Phantom of The Process” — shot 6-for-15, while Saric (25 points) led Philly in shot attempts (9 of 17) and Simmons (19 points) got more involved as a scorer (6 of 15).
When his teammate did seek out Embiid in the post, unlike earlier in the series, it tended to work out. In the opening minutes, the starting center went old school, scoring over Al Horford with a jump-hook after backing him down
In the second quarter, Embiid first made an impact in the post by drawing a foul on Marcus Morris, whom he pinned beneath the rim (more on that KU connection to come). He later posted up Aron Baynes on the right block and passed out of a double team to feed McConnell (19 points, 9-for-12 shooting) for a score inside.
The Sixers finished the half in style on a set that began with Embiid posting at the left elbow. After giving the ball to J.J. Redick on a handoff and rolling to the paint, the big man threw down a jam for a 47-43 halftime advantage.
In the third quarter, one Embiid post-up on the left elbow eventually turned into a wide-open McConnell 3 that pushed the margin to 76-62. In the fourth, after Embiid drew a foul while posting up Greg Monroe, the side out of bounds play that followed concluded with a McConnell layup.
Amid all the countable contributions Embiid made to the win, he also kept the raucous Philly crowd involved, sometimes with the help of his opponents.
In the second quarter Marcus Smart reached in after Embiid secured a defensive board and knocked the visor on the big man’s mask, giving the Sixers star the chance to play to the crowd and for the fans to boo Smart — a pastime with which Kansas fans surely are familiar.
The intensity turned up even more a few minutes later, when Embiid tried taking the ball from Terry Rozier after the point guard was whistled for an offensive foul. The two had to be separated after Rozier pushed Embiid and swung at them, leading to double technical fouls.
Of course, Embiid had something to say about it during his post-game press conference.
“Too bad he’s so short that he couldn’t get to my face,” Embiid deadpanned.
In the third quarter, with Philadelphia making a run, Embiid let another former Kansas standout, Morris, know the Sixers were getting in the Celtics’ heads. Morris responded by first flashing three fingers, then zero, referencing the state of the series entering Game 4.
Dull moments don’t exist in Joel Embiid’s world. Check in to see what he has in store on Wednesday, when the Celtics and Sixers play Game 5, in Boston.
When Boston’s Marcus Morris and Milwaukee’s Khris Middleton started leaning into each other with a little more oomph while jockeying for position and barking back and forth even louder than normal during a playoff matchup Tuesday night it wasn’t because the two had grown sick of each other less than two games into a best-of-seven series.
According to Morris, the chippy nature of their encounter, which culminated with Morris fouling Middleton hard on a drive to the paint in the second half, dates back to their days in the Big 12.
"I've been competing with Khris since college, when we used to kick they ass in Kansas," Morris told The Republican after the Celtics’ victory, referring to Midleton’s days at Texas A&M. "He's a good player. No hard feelings, but I'm coming to play. I know he is. We're gonna go back and forth."
Apparently it didn’t take much for Middleton, now the Bucks’ second-best scorer, behind Giannis Antetokounmpo, to rub Morris the wrong way. Their paths only crossed three times during their college careers. KU and Morris went 2-0 versus A&M in 2010, when Morris was a sophomore and Middleton was a freshman. They met up just once the following year, and KU defeated the Aggies, 64-61, at Allen Fieldhouse, in 2011. As a junior, Morris scored 13 points in his home finale. Middleton, then a sophomore, scored 9 in defeat.
The two actually have squared off far more often as pros. While Middleton (15.1 points per game, 39.1% 3-point shooting through six seasons) has enjoyed a more successful career, Morris (11.2 career scoring average, 35.7% 3-point shooter) continues to get the best of his old college adversary in the NBA.
Per basketball-reference.com, Morris’ teams have gone 8-5 versus Middleton’s in the regular season since the two began squaring off in 2012-13, Middleton’s rookie year. Middleton has out-scored Morris 16.9 points per game to 13.0 in those meetings, though, and shot 54.5% from the floor, compared to 46% for Morris.
More importantly for the former Kansas standout, he now possesses a 2-0 record against the former Aggie in the playoffs. Middleton is averaging 28.0 points per game and hitting 4.5 3-pointers a game against Boston, but Morris (19.5 points per game, 50% 3-point shooting) plays for a more balanced team and heads to Milwaukee with Boston up 2-0 in the series.
“I expect it to be a hostile environment,” Morris predicted of Game 3, at Milwaukee, “especially with me. I'm ready for it. Going in same attitude, like I'm in Boston.”
The Celtics’ current sixth man, Morris played 30 minutes off the bench on Tuesday, scoring 18 points on 5-for-11 shooting, while providing 5 boards and an assist.
His fiery, sometimes physical, play provides even more, though. Just after Morris fouled Middleton late in the game and members of both teams kept that duo separated as they yelled unpleasantries at each other, Morris turned to the Boston crowd and waved his hands upwards, imploring them to get even louder. They predictably obliged.
“I’m trying to make tough plays,” Morris said, “and be that spark.”
Under other circumstances Boston would not need much production out of Marcus Morris in order to advance in the NBA Playoffs.
But injuries to the two best players on the roster, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, mean it’s all hands on the parquet floor for the Celtics, and Morris, the group’s current sixth man, is as crucial to the team’s longevity this spring as anyone.
Although the former Kansas standout has been in the league since 2011, Boston’s Sunday meeting with Milwaukee marked just the fifth playoff game of Morris’ career. Even so, the 6-foot-9 forward’s savvy play and late-game baskets proved vital to a 113-107 overtime victory.
Game 1 of the opener might not have got to OT without Morris’ crunch-time play. In the final five minutes of regulation, Morris drove for a successful reverse layup, later tipped in his own miss, fed Terry Rozier for a 3-pointer, hit a contested step-back jumper and drew a charge on Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
A sub in name only, Morris played 35 minutes as a reserve, essentially serving as the fifth starter, instead of center Aaron Baynes, who logged 15 minutes.
With 21 points on 8-for-20 shooting, Morris nearly out-scored Milwaukee’s entire bench (23), and joined Al Horford, Rozier and Jaylen Brown as 20-point scorers for the Celtics. Morris also grabbed 7 boards and connected on 2 of his 4 3-pointers.
“We all played well,” Morris said during an on-court post-game interview. “They played a good game, but we got Game 1.”
Horford gave Morris more credit when asked if Boston needs that type of production out of the stretch-forward consistently.
“No question,” Horford replied. “He brings toughness to our group. He brings that grit and we fed off of that and the crowd fed off of it and it was great.”
Ahead of his playoff debut as a Celtic, Morris told the Boston Globe he thought outsiders might overlook the Eastern Conference’s No. 2 seed due to the absence of Irving and Hayward.
“I’m looking forward to proving everybody wrong,” Morris said before Boston took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series. “Everybody is counting us out and that’s the main thing. This (is) about respect, and I feel we’re not getting any respect. We’re going to have to take it.”
While many NBA observers actually liked Boston’s chances versus the Bucks in spite of the team’s injuries, Morris’ personal postseason mentality can’t waver, or the Celtics’ playoff run won’t go far.
“I’m going to go out there and continue to be me, continue to be a bulldog, help my team do whatever it takes to win,” Morris said. “If we play the right way, I think we’ve got a great shot at beating (Milwaukee).”
And if Morris keeps finding ways to get to the rim and making big plays in the clutch, Boston just might be able to reach the East finals for the second year in a row.
From this day forward no member of the Boston Celtics will ever again wear No. 34.
That number will forever be associated with the name Paul Pierce and hang in the rafters above the Celtics’ signature parquet floor, with the likes of Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Robert Parrish and Kevin McHale.
The best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain, Pierce officially became a legend Sunday in Boston, when the franchise with 17 championships retired his jersey.
“Words can’t even describe it right now,” Pierce told reporters on the eve of the ceremony.
“When I got to this day, I was like, ‘It came so fast.’ I remember like yesterday the day Wyc (Grousbeck, co-owner of the Celtics) called me and was like, ‘We want to retire your jersey.’ And I’m like, ‘Really? It happened already?’” recalled Pierce, currently in his first year of retirement. “Just to see and be with all the people who helped me on this journey, to get to this point to where I finally put a close on my career and leave a legacy here in Boston, it’s just good to bring all those people in one room. Because it wasn’t just me by myself to get to this point.”
Pierce figured the festivities, which followed Boston’s game against Cleveland, would toy with his emotions, and he was right. The 40-year-old who grew up in Inglewod, Calif., played three years at KU under then-coach Roy Williams and became the face of the Celtics for the bulk of his NBA career fought back tears at one point, while addressing cheering fans inside TD Garden.
“If I never make the Hall of Fame,” Pierce said during his speech, “to go up as a Celtic with my number here, that’s probably all I can ever ask for. That’ll be enough. That would be enough for me.”
A 10-time all-star and MVP of the 2008 NBA Finals, Pierce’s statistics rank him among the very best to ever wear the iconic green and white of the Celtics.
The 6-foot-7 forward nicknamed “The Truth” by an NBA legend, Shaquille O’Neal, Pierce is Boston’s all-time leader in 3-pointers made (1,823), free throws made (6,434) and steals (1,583).
Only John Havlicek (26,395 points) scored more for the Celtics than Paul Pierce did (24,021) during his 15 seasons with the renowned franchise.
Pierce also ranks in the top 10 in Celtics lore in games played (third, 1,102), minutes played (third, 40,360), field goals made (third, 7,882), offensive rebounds (eighth, 1,008), defensive rebounds (third, 5,643), total rebounds (seventh, 6,651), assists (fifth, 4,305), blocks (fourth, 668), points per game (third, 21.8) and steals per game (eighth, 1.4).
It’s those kinds of numbers that earned Pierce the respect of his peers and former Celtics giants alike.
“One of the greatest things that can happen to an athlete is to retire as a Celtic,” 11-time champion Russell said in a video message to Pierce. “I’m very proud of you, and I’m proud that you were a Celtic.”
Kevin Garnett, who teamed with Pierce and Ray Allen to lead Boston to the franchise’s most recent title, in 2008, remembered Pierce for his swagger and scoring ability.
“Part of trash-talking is backing it up. And I would say his level of trash-talking is about the doing, and him telling you he’s about to do it,” Garnett said in a video tribute. “You hear these tales about Larry Bird — ‘Hey, I’m comin’ down here fixin’ to shoot the 3 right in your face.’ Well, our generation that was Paul Pierce.”
Here are a few of the countless videos and photos dedicated to Pierce’s career and achievement that popped up on his memorable day:Your browser does not support iframes.
Debating where basketball players rank in the annals of history is a time-honored tradition in the NBA — like Marv Albert yelling “Yes” on a broadcast or the Los Angeles Clippers failing to advance past the second round of the playoffs.
So you can imagine the arguments ignited by The Washington Post’s newly published list of The Top 40 players since the ABA/NBA merger, 40 years ago, as constructed by Tim Bontemps. The Michael Jordan-LeBron James disputes, of course, are inevitable. But so, too, are the “Why isn’t Player X on this list?” and “Who put THAT guy on here?” dissensions.
Although others might debate his inclusion, University of Kansas basketball fans will be glad to know the Jayhawks are represented among The Post’s top 40 of the past 40 seasons, with Paul Pierce coming in at No. 36 — even ahead of a pair of hall of famers, Kevin McHale and Reggie Miller.
A recent retiree and future hall of famer himself, Pierce averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals over the course of 19 seasons, after Boston made him the No. 10 pick in the 1998 draft. “The Truth” was a 10-time all-star, four-time member of one of the three tiers of all-NBA teams and the 2008 NBA Finals MVP.
Bontemps explains his place in NBA history:
“Pierce’s quiet end to his career with the Los Angeles Clippers shouldn’t diminish what was a remarkable run, largely with the Boston Celtics, where he partnered with (Kevin) Garnett and (Ray) Allen to usher in a new era in the sport. He also had the most duels with James, and came out on the winning end more times than just about anyone else, too.”
As referenced by Bontemps, Pierce and LeBron put up some classic battles before the former KU star hit the declining years of his career arc. Pierce and the Celtics knocked James and the Cavaliers (the pre-Miami, pre-Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love incarnation) out of the playoffs in both 2008 and 2010. And although LeBron’s Heat teams would later defeat Pierce and company in three other postseasons (once after Boston traded him to Brooklyn), giving “King James” a 3-2 advantage over Pierce in terms of playoff series won (17-13 in postseason games), this generation’s greatest talent, who has since won three titles, learned much from his early battles with “The Truth.”
"Obviously he gets a Cliff note or a couple notes in my book as far as guys that helped me get over the hump or kept me where I was at the time," James said in 2015 of Pierce. "I knew I had to become much better individually. He's one of those guys."
That praise, along with Pierce’s many accomplishments, some may — you know — argue, should be enough to rank Pierce higher than 36th on this compilation of all-time greats.
Check out The Post’s interactive top-40 graphic and decide for yourself.
Among the 40 players highlighted, Pierce ranks 26th in points, 27th in rebounding, 25th in assists, 24th in steals and 25th in blocks.
The career of the best NBA player from Kansas since Wilt Chamberlain officially has come to a close.
After 19 seasons, 1,343 regular-season games, 14 playoff appearances, 10 All-Star games, four All-NBA selections, a championship ring and a Finals MVP trophy, Paul Pierce walked away from the game on Sunday, with the Los Angeles Clippers’ season-ending playoff-loss sending him into retirement.
For the 39-year-old forward, the finale — 6 points, 2-for-4 shooting, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1 steal in 22 minutes versus Utah — was not reflective of what is bound to become a hall of fame career. “The Truth” as the high-scoring Inglewood, Calif., native came to be known in the NBA during his peak years with the Boston Celtics, averaged 19.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.3 steals for his career. He shot 44.5% from the floor and made 2,143 of his 5,816 3-point attempts (36.8%).
Through an incredible 15-year run with the Celtics, who drafted him 10th overall in 1998, Pierce played in 136 playoff games, producing 20.9 points, 6.4 boards and 4.0 assists a game.
His revered veteran presence took him to Brooklyn, Washington and L.A., too, for the twilight years in the league, before it all finally ended in the first round of the 2017 playoffs, with a Game 7 defeat.
“You know, it’s tough to come up short in your goals. Each and every year you set a goal to be champions,” Pierce said in a post-game interview with reporters posted at CBSSports.com. “And it’s a tough pill to swallow each and every year. I’ve been in the league 19 years, so I’ve had to swallow 18 tough pills. But at the end of the day, I was happy to be a part of this, compete with these guys and see the work everybody put in every day, and I appreciate the guys around me,” he said, before shaking his head in apparent disbelief. “It’s been a fun ride.”
The season obviously ended sooner than Pierce and his Clippers teammates hoped, but the new retiree was able to put it all in perspective.
“I’m happy at the end of the day with what I’ve been able to accomplish, what I’ve been able to do throughout my career,” Pierce said, “and I gave every ounce I could. Each and every day. I have no regrets. Even to the last day I’m in here a couple hours before the game, you know, giving my blood, sweat and tears to this game.”
After Pierce’s final NBA appearance, a number of former teammates and competitors showed their appreciation for his career with messages on social media.
Likewise, in a video produced by The Players’ Tribune, many of those same stars and contemporaries shared their thoughts on what made Pierce special over the course of his many highlight-filled, shot-making years in The Association. And his college days weren’t overlooked, either, thanks to the help of his coach at Kansas, Roy Williams.
“He was a wonderful player to coach,” Williams said. “He’s a complete player, and I think that competitiveness made him become a compete player.”
His longtime friend and Celtics running mate Kevin Garnett described Pierce both as a “beast” and a “classic” player.
“One of the more clutch, if not calmer, beasts that I’ve met in my life,” Garnett said.
Between the regular season and playoffs since his professional debut in 1999, Pierce logged 47,873 minutes and scored 29,571 points. He retired as the 18th-leading scorer in NBA history (26,397 points).
“This game has meant everything for me,” Pierce said shortly after playing for the last time on Sunday. “And I’m happy from start to finish.”
Paul Pierce proved in the 2015 NBA Playoffs he’s still relevant in the league, even with 17 seasons of mileage on his veteran frame.
The 37-year-old small forward from Kansas scored 14.6 points per game and drilled 33 of his 63 3-pointers (52.4%) for Washington in the postseason before Atlanta eliminated the Wizards in the second round, leading Pierce to say his offseason plans would include contemplating retirement.
It turns out those within NBA circles, though, anticipate “The Truth” returning for Year No. 18 — and playing for a different organization.
David Aldridge reported on NBA.com “many around the league” think Pierce will finish his career in Los Angeles, with the Clippers. Though the former Boston star, who also spent one season with Brooklyn, signed a two-year deal with Washington this past summer, he can opt out of the contract and become a free agent again in July if he so chooses.
The Clippers make perfect sense as a potential destination for Pierce. He grew up in nearby Inglewood, California, and won the 2008 NBA championship with current L.A. coach Doc Rivers. Plus, with younger stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin carrying the Clippers, Rivers easily could use Pierce in a reduced role during the regular season — Washington used a similar approach — to save his legs for when they need them the most.
Then again, if Pierce indeed becomes a free agent, who’s to say he wouldn’t join another franchise? Celtics guard Avery Bradley told 98.5 Sports Hub he would love to see his former Boston teammate back in Celtics green.
“To me, Paul is always going to be a Boston Celtic,” Bradley said. “The things that he’s been able to accomplish in his time here, it was just amazing. And I’m pretty sure all the Boston fans would love that, too.”
Boston, coached by Brad Stevens, surprised the league this past season by reaching the playoffs, despite trading away veterans Jeff Green and Rajon Rondo. The Celtics became one of the more competitive teams in the NBA the final three months of the season and won eight of their final 10 games to grab the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference.
Pierce’s former franchise is trending upward, but the current roster wouldn’t contend for a title, even with the addition of No. 34. Boston would need to make a few more moves and bring in an all-star or two before Pierce could return knowing he had a chance to get back to the NBA Finals.
No road to the championship is easy, but for Pierce, returning to Washington or joining the Clippers would provide paths with fewer obstacles.
The Wizards came close to reaching the East finals this season, and his young teammates John Wall, Bradley Beal and Otto Porter all showed serious improvement. It’s easy to envision D.C. taking another step forward in 2016. But if Pierce stays in the East, he’ll have to go through his old rival, LeBron James, to reach The Finals.
The Clippers had Houston on the ropes and blew a huge lead in Game 6 of the second round before their season ended on the road, in Game 7, against the Rockets. Even though the West is loaded, L.A. has the star power of Paul and Griffin, who could propel the franchise to an unprecedented Finals appearance in 2016 — especially if the Clippers re-sign DeAndre Jordan and add some more complimentary pieces.
Ultimately, the lack of a supporting cast led to L.A.’s demise. Griffin and Paul had to carry the load so much, the fatigue caught up with them late in the Houston series. Pierce isn’t the same defender he was earlier in his career, so he wouldn’t be the perfect “3-and-D” wing for the Clippers. But he could lessen the offensive burden placed on the shoulders of Griffin and Paul, particularly late in games.
After so many seasons in Boston green, Pierce has become a bit of a hired gun late in his career. Why not make one last run at a championship with your old coach in your home town?
Truthfully, Pierce would look good in a Clippers uniform. With him camping out behind the 3-point line on one side of the court, and J.J. Redick doing the same on the opposite side, imagine the extra room Paul and Griffin (and Jordan?) would have to operate.
And if defenses decide to focus on L.A.’s stars, Pierce will be there licking his lips, waiting to deliver a crunch-time dagger.