Friday, February 3, 2017

Paul Pierce vs the L.A. Lakers: A Celtics Rivalry Renewed

Celtics fans have been looking back and reminiscing about the one and only Paul Pierce this week. As 'The Truth' prepares to play his last game at the TD Garden on Super Bowl Sunday, how fitting, since the New England Patriots will look to win their fifth Lambardi trophy just a couple hours later, we here on Causeway Street have been paying homage to Pierce and it's only right that we take a trip down memory lane one more time.

Since the Celtics will be hosing the L.A. Lakers at the TD Garden on Friday night, the NBA's oldest rivalry, let's re-live some classic Pierce moments against the purple and gold in honor of The Truth and his 15 years in Boston.

Obviously, there aren't all wins for the Celtics, in fact Pierce was 17-21 (including the Finals) against the Lakers in his time in green, but nonetheless, he always put up great numbers whenever he played his childhood team.

2.25.00 - Paul Pierce's first game against his favorite team: Lakers 109 - Celtics 96

Due to the NBA lockout during the 1998-99 season (Pierce's rookie year), the Lakers were not on the Celtics' schedule until Pierce's second season in the league. It was his first taste of an historic rivalry that spanned decades, and despite Boston not having a playoff team in the past five seasons, Pierce understood the importance of playing against his favorite team growing up, now as a member of the Celtics. Playing in front of his family and friends in Los Angeles, the future C's captain finished with 19 points (6-19), 3 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals in a loss.

3.13.01 - Shaquille O'Neal officially 'anoints' Paul Pierce: Lakers 112 - Celtics 107

Pierce was looking to redeem himself in Los Angeles and possibly pick up his first win vs. the Lakers in the process. The Celtics kept the game close against the NBA champs as Pierce's 42 points (13-19 from the field) to go along with his 6 rebounds and 4 steals took the Lake-show to their limit. Despite the C's loss, it was clear that Shaq had to comment on the L.A. boy and his 'veteran' like performance with his famous quote that would define Pierce's career forever.
"Take this down. My name is Shaquille O'Neal, and Paul Pierce is the mother****ing truth. Quote me on that, and don't take nothing out. I knew he could play, I didn't know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth."

The Truth had arrived and it was only just the beginning between Pierce and his now rival Lakers.

 2.19.02 - Paul Pierce's first win at the Staples Center: Celtics 109 - Lakers 108

On a night where the Lakers led literally the entire game and by as much as 15 points, Kobe Bryant (27 points, 9 assists) was matched up against Paul Pierce (33 points, 8 rebounds, 5 steals, 2 blocks) but it was Antoine Walker (30 points, 14 rebounds, 10 assists) who got the last laugh out in LA-LA Land. With the Celtics down 108-106 with 4.2 seconds remaining, it was 'Toine's bank shot 3-pointer that gave Boston's it's first lead 109-108 with 1.2 seconds left on the clock.

Kobe not only got 'The Truth' to bite on the first pump fake, but he nailed a mid-range jumper from the right hand side at the buzzer. Or at least that's what we thought before the refs got together and decided to waive the basket and give the Celtics the win and in the process, stunned the L.A. crowd. Good thing there was no replay or better yet a lit backboard system that wouldn't go into effect until the following season (2002-03).

Boston would go on to beat the Lakers for a second time weeks later and made a playoff run all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals (Pierce's first taste of the postseason).

Take a look at an irate Kobe below, that basket definitely should not have counted... oh well.

Side note: On this particular west coast road trip for the Celtics, the whole team decided to use green headbands, Pierce of course, never stopped wearing his for the next 11-years in Boston. It would became Pierce's trademark for the rest of his career.

3.2.05 - Boston welcomes back Antoine: Celtics 104 - Lakers 101

In the first season in the post Shaq-era for the Lakers (28-28), both teams had similar records while the Celtics (30-28) were riding a momentum from a post trade-deadline deal that landed former C's captain Antoine Walker back for a postseason run. On this night, it was Walker's first game at the then Fleet Center since being traded to the Mavericks. Yours truly, was in attendance (this would be my first and only C's-Laker game in Boston).

In a back and forth game in front of a playoff-like atmosphere, Bryant struggled from the field, going 9-of-24 for 26 points, while Pierce finished with 29 points and 9 rebounds and 7 assists. Old friend Ricky Davis also chipped in with 29 points going 13-23 from the floor. With .9 remaining, Kobe missed a 3-point shot to potentially send the game to overtime.

6.5.08 - Pierce's first NBA Finals game: Celtics 98 - Lakers 88 Game 1

In the first NBA Finals matchup between these two historic franchises in over 20-years, the Celtics were back in the big dance for the first time since 1987, while the Lakers had waited only four-years (2004) since their last finals appearance. An early season trade that landed Pau Gasol in Los Angeles, and a summer trade that landed Kevin Garnett in Boston, the two best teams in basketball were set to square off and add another chapter to their rivalry.

After Kobe Bryant shot 9-of-26 from the field for only 24 points, it was too much K.G. (24 points and 13 rebounds) and an inspired Paul Pierce (22 points, 3-of-4 from behind the arc) including back-to-back 3's after coming back from a what most thought could have been a series-ending knee injury in the second half, proved too much for L.A. as they grabbed a 1-0 series lead.

6.12.08 The greatest NBA Finals comeback ever: Celtics 97 - Lakers 91 NBA Finals Game 4

The Lakers looked liked they were going to easily tie the series at two-games a piece at home when they had a 24-point lead early in the fourth quarter over the Celtics. It was the unsung heroes of Eddie House (2-of-4 from 3) and James Posey (4-of-8 from 3) who sparked a late comeback combined with Paul Pierce asking Doc River to guard Kobe Bryant (17 points on 6-of-19 shooting and 10 assists). Boston made history for the best fourth quarter comeback in NBA Finals history and took a 3-1 series lead. Pierce finished with 20-points, 7 assists, 4 rebounds, a steal and a block to get within one win of his first championship.

6.15.08 Pierce's best performance in the Finals: Lakers 103 - Celtics 98 NBA Finals Game 5

It was Father's Day and Paul Pierce's family was in attendance and the Celtics were looking to wrap the series in five games. Kobe did what the 'Black Mamba' does best and spoiled what was 'The Truth's' (38 points, 8 assists, 6 rebounds) best all around game in the Finals (in 08' or 10'). With 49.9 seconds left and the C's down 95-97, Pierce with the ball at half court and what appeared to be a foul to me (surprise, surprise) ended up being a Kobe steal and a layup on the other end, pretty much sealing the Lakers victory. Bryant believed his quest for his first ring without Shaq was still in his grasp heading back to Boston for Game 6 and possibly a Game 7. Either way, Pierce's plan to celebrate were put on hold, but not for long.

6.17.08 Pierce wins his first Championship & MVP: Celtics 131 - Lakers 92 NBA Finals Game 6

It had been 22-years since the last time the Celtics hung their 16th banner, and while the building had changed, the atmosphere remained the same as the infamous "BEAT L.A.!" echoed throughout the night. Kobe went 7-of-22 from the field (3-of-9 from behind the arc) for 22 points in 42 minutes. He watched his counter-parts, the new Big-3 (Pierce, Garnett and Allen combined for 69 points) pure it on from start to finish. It seemed like the Garden faithful never sat down, as the C's beat the Lakers in the largest margin of victory for an NBA Finals-series clinching victory ever (39 points). Bryant in tears afterwards would call that night the "the lowest point of his career," up to that moment. 

Pierce finished with 17 points, 10 assists and 2 steals in his first (and only for now) championship clinching win. He was also awarded Finals MVP, as it was a testament to all he had endured during the last decade. Not only did he raise a banner in Boston, but he did it by beating his one time beloved Lakers (got to love the irony).

12.25.08 Pierce's first Christmas Day game ever: Lakers 92 - Celtics 83

It's hard to imagine a 27-3 start to an NBA season as not a 'big deal' considering what the Warriors pulled off last season. But at the start of the 2008-09 season with no 'championship hangover,' the Celtics were winners of 19-straight when they rolled into the Staples Center on Christmas Day (Pierce's first in L.A. and overall). Kobe Bryant scored a game high 27 points, while Pau Gasol added 20 points for the Lakers who snapped the C's win streak giving Phil Jackson his 1000th victory. Despite Paul Pierce's double-double of 20 points and 10 rebounds, it wasn't enough during this nationally televised tilt (ABC).       

2.5.09 Lakers snap C's second straight double-digit win streak: Lakers 110 - Celtics 109 [OT]

Celtics started a new streak, and were looking to avenge a Christmas Day lost to the Lakers again on national TV (TNT) for the second meeting of the 2008-09 season. Both teams were in first place in their respective conferences (Lakers 40-9) (Celtics 41-10) and looked like to be on a crash coarse straight to the NBA Finals for the second straight year. But it was Kobe who got the last laugh going 10-of-14 from the field for 26 points snapping yet second double-digit win streak for Boston at 12.

Paul Pierce finished with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 5 assists on the night, despite the loss, it was a great game.

6.13.10 Pierce's last Finals game in Boston: Celtics 92 - Lakers 86 NBA Finals Game 5

With Boston down 2-1 after the first three games of the 2010 NBA Finals, the plan was simple, win the next two at home to take a lead heading back to L.A. In a tug-of-war type of game, where neither team gave up a double-digit lead. It was Paul Pierce who came up big when the Celtics needed him most, converting a half-court assists to Rajon Rondo on a steal, while falling out of bounds in the closing seconds to seal the win and a 3-2 lead heading back to Los Angeles.

Pierce finished with 27 points (12-21), 2 blocks and a steal, but unfortunately that would be his last win in the Finals. The Lakers would go on to win he next two games at home and the NBA title. The Truth and the Celtics have not been back to fight for a championship ring since 2010.

2.7.13 Pierce's last game and win against Kobe in Boston: Celtics 116 - Lakers 95 

During a stretch where Rajon Rondo (torn ACL) was officially out for the year and Paul Pierce became the point-forward for Doc Rivers for the remainder of the lockout shortened season. The Celtics were in the middle of a seven-game win streak since losing Rondo, and Pierce was on a tear putting up five triple-doubles in that span. L.A. just so happened to catch the C's at the wrong time as Pierce put up 24 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. It was only the Celtics third win over the Lakers in their last eight meetings.

Kobe ended his night with 27 points and 7 rebounds, while good ol' Dwight Howard added 9 points and 9 rebounds. Bryant would get his revenge in the next and final meeting two-weeks later, in a 14-point win over the C's. Pierce finished with 27 points in the loss (his final game against the Lakers in a Celtics uniform).

Though the Celtics and Lakers haven't been true rivals since 2013, both teams always play hard against each other regardless of who's on the rosters these days.

During Paul Pierce's 15-years in Boston, he was a-part of arguably the best rivalry in sports (Red Sox/Yankees also come to mind). Who else can say they played in first NBA Finals game, won their first NBA championship, played their first Christmas Day game and received their nickname while playing against the Los Angeles Lakers, a team the grew up idolizing?

Only 'The Truth' can say that. 

Now we look back and it's easy to say that not only is Pierce in the history books alongside the likes of Larry Bird as a great Celtic (a team and player he hated as a kid), but he's also become a legend around these parts. There's just so many great moments between these two franchises over the years. I hope we got to appreciate and cherish them just as those Celtics and Lakers fans did before us in prior decades (60's, 70's and 80's).

Maybe soon enough we'll be cheering on the next chapter of this historic rivalry, no matter which side you're on.

Let us know what's your favorite Paul Pierce/Lakers moment below or on Twitter.

Picture used via: Getty Images
Videos used via: YouTube

No comments:

Post a Comment