For the Celtics, the city of Boston, and basketball fans the world over, the 2008 NBA Finals will be remembered as the moment of Truth.
On Tuesday night, at the TD Banknorth Garden, Paul Pierce and his teammates claimed the Celtics' first NBA championship in 22 years, defeating the Los Angeles Lakers 131-92 in Game 6 for a 4-2 series victory. Pierce, long ago nicknamed "The Truth" by Shaquille O'Neal for his exploits against the Lakers, joined the big man among the ranks of Finals MVPs. Amid a raucous celebration after the game, Commissioner David Stern bestowed the honor on the Celtics' captain.
"This is just an unbelievable experience," Pierce told reporters. "If you're going to win a championship, you want to win one with the Boston Celtics, man. I can't put into words how to describe how I'm feeling right now...This has been great, man. This has been great."
Pierce capped a monster series with 17 points in the final game. Playing with a balky right knee, the ten-year veteran averaged 22 points per game, while pulling down five rebounds and dishing out six assists. Pierce likewise was a revelation on defense, making key stops in each game, while dominating his assignments, including a matchup against League MVP Kobe Bryant.
"I think [before the series] Paul was only viewed upon as a scorer, you know, and now I think people see him as a complete basketball player," Celtics' Coach Doc Rivers said. "He had eight assists the other night. The game before that, he guarded Kobe and did a terrific job. He is, I think, one of the best rebounders at small forward in our league, and he's a lethal scorer."
In six games against the Lakers, Pierce served up a litany of memorable highlights. In Game 1, the Garden crowd held its collective breath as Pierce went down with what seemed like a serious knee injury. Teammates carried their captain off the floor, while trainers subsequently placed him in a wheelchair. Within minutes, however, Pierce had returned to action, electrifying Celtics' fans with consecutive threes and ultimately leading his team to a 98-88 victory.
In Game 4, Pierce loomed large as the Celtics mounted the greatest comeback in NBA Finals history. The Truth dropped 20 points, including 14 in the second half, but, more critically, shut down Bryant defensively in the final two quarters. Pierce almost single-handedly closed out the Lakers in the subsequent Game 5. The Truth spearheaded Celtic comebacks in both halves, while scoring a total of 38 points on the night.
After Tuesday's championship win, Pierce truly has seen it all in his time with the Celtics. When The Truth first joined the team as a rookie in 1998, the franchise was in the midst of a playoff drought. The Celtics rebounded with four consecutive postseason appearances between 2002 and 2005, but never succeeded in making it past the Eastern Conference Finals. After a disastrous 24-58 record last season, the chances of a Pierce championship in Boston seemed slim, at least until General Manager Danny Ainge acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen in separate trades. The moves heralded the Celtics' commitment to winning, renewed Pierce's purpose, and, perhaps most significantly, gave the latter his strongest supporting cast yet.
"Just to work so hard and for 10 long years being with the Boston Celtics, just going through my ups and downs, Danny, Doc, ownership, guys sticking with me through tough times...this is what makes those other moments so sweet, knowing that you were at rock bottom a year ago today," Pierce said. "To climb all the way to the top, this is a dream come true, and I'm going to cherish this forever."
If he had not done so already, Pierce, the champion, now unquestionably joins the pantheon of Celtics' greats. Indeed, there is a strong likelihood that Pierce, who currently ranks seventh all-time in franchise scoring, someday will see his Number 34 join Banner 17 in the rafters. But, rather than think about the long-term future or even next season, Pierce, deservedly so, dwelled only on Tuesday's victory--and his first NBA championship.
"Let me enjoy this," Pierce jokingly told reporters after the game. "I'm going to enjoy this one tonight. I'm going to enjoy this for the next four weeks straight before I go to bed...I don't see no sleep in my future."