For those who have questioned whether or not Celtics captain Paul Pierce is an all-time franchise great, Wednesday night's performance should have sealed the deal. Pierce scored 28 points in a thrilling 105-102 overtime win against the Milwaukee Bucks, and in the process, surpassed 20,000 points for his career.
It was an unforgettable moment for Celtics fans, as Pierce reached the historic milestone on a free throw with 13.3 second left in overtime, becoming the 36th player in NBA history to score 20,000 points.
Pierce lifted his arms in celebration immediately afterwards, and was greeted with a standing ovation after Milwaukee called a timeout following Pierce's second free throw (and 20,001st point).
After the game, Pierce gave an emotional sideline interview and let it be known how much this accomplishment meant to him.
"That was an emotional moment for me. It was tough for me to swallow at that point," Pierce said in his postgame interview, via CelticsBlog. "You don't see that often that a player accomplishes the feat with one team. Five years ago, I would never have imagined I would score 20,000 points in a Celtics jersey. I was a disgruntled player."
And perhaps that is the most impressive part of Pierce's accomplishment: the fact he scored every single point while playing basketball for the Boston Celtics.
Let's face it. He's been the face of the franchise for the last 10 years. Pierce has stuck with the Celtics through thick and thin. He became the face of the franchise after the former face, Antoine Walker, was shipped away to the Dallas Mavericks back in 2003.
Considering the Celtics were founded in 1946, Pierce has been the star of the greatest basketball franchise on Earth for around 20% of their existence.
In a day and age when team loyalty seems to be gone for good, it's a marvel that you can look at Pierce's profile on BasketballReference.com and see just one sentence listed under his career transactions.
June 24, 1998: Drafted by the Boston Celtics in the 1st round (10th pick) of the 1998 NBA Draft.
Pierce is everything that you could want in a basketball player. He can take the ball to the hoop, score and draw the foul. He can shoot the tree, and shoot it darn well. He can hit mid-range shots, including his trademark fade-away jumper. He can defend the best players in the league and can effectively run a locker room. He is charismatic and is great in press conferences and interviews.
But most importantly, he's a team player that's willing to give his all on every play.
If he wasn't, the Celtics would not have raised their 17th banner in 2008. Had Pierce been consumed solely by his nightly numbers, the Big Three experiment would not have worked out, and a lot of people in the Celtics' organization would be out of work. Danny Ainge and Doc Rivers included.
Granted, Pierce was a little more self-oriented earlier in his career, but so is every star. Yet he reached a point when he realized that he wasn't going to win a championship by padding his numbers night in and night out. Pierce realized that he would win by doing what's necessary to win on a nightly basis. Some nights that means he had to score, and others it meant he had to pass or rebound or defend.
When push came to shove, Pierce sacrificed his personal success for the good of the team. As a result, Pierce will be remembered for doing the most important thing any Celtics player could ever do: winning a championship. If that's not enough, lets look at the numbers.
Pierce has career averages of 22.5 points, 6.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists, 1.5 steals, a field goal percentage of 44.5% a three-point percentage of 37% and a free throw percentage of 80.2%.
Even more importantly, Pierce has come to play in the playoffs. In 101 postseason games, Pierce averages 21.4 points, 6.6 rebounds and 4.1 assists. Additionally, he has a lifetime playoff field goal percentage of 42.5%, a three-point mark of 34% and a free throw percentage of 82%.
Not only is he one of the best Celtics ever, but he is one of the best players to ever play the game. Pierce ranks 26th all-time in scoring per game with his nightly average of 22.5 points.
As for team records, Pierce ranks near the top in nearly every one.
Pierce is eighth in franchise history with 889 games played and ranks fifth with 33,122 minutes played. Also, he ranks second only to Larry Bird in scoring per game, fifth in field goals made with 6,539 and first in free throws made with 5,448.
Pierce holds the record for fifth-most points in a single game following a career-high 50 points against the Cleveland Cavaliers on February 15, 2006. He has scored more than 40 points in a game 18 times and is tied with Larry Bird for the most assists in a game with 9.
Of course, there's no comparing Pierce's numbers during the last 10 years.
Pierce has led the team in scoring for the past 10 seasons and has lead the team in total points nine out of ten times in the past decade. Also, Pierce has led the team in field goals made for seven of the last 10 seasons and has led the team in free throws made for a solid 12 consecutive years.
Even in this, his 13th season, Pierce continues to put up top-notch numbers, and ranks 19th in the league in scoring this season, averaging 21.2 points.
In short, there's a reason Shaquille O'Neal gave Pierce the nickname "The Truth."