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Irish Coffee: Paul Pierce’s legacy

11.04.10 at 1:40 pm ET
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Wake up with the Celtics and your daily dose of Irish Coffee …

Shaquille O’Neal watched in the locker room as Paul Pierce passed, clinging to the ball commemorating his 20,000th career point and smiling, ear-to-ear.

O’Neal turned to Celtics assistant coach Armond Hill and said, “Didn’t I score my 20,000th career point on you?”

No, it wasn’t quite 26 years ago when Hill hung up his shoes that Shaq reached 20,000, but it was eight seasons ago — signaling just how far Pierce has to go in order to reach Shaq & Co. in the top-five scorers of all-time.

Still, what Pierce achieved Wednesday night againt the Bucks doesn’t happen too often in the NBA, although it may not seem that way, considering three of the 35 other players in the history of the league to accomplish the feat were just a few feet away from him in the locker room.

“He’s been one of the best players in the league for a very long time,” Jermaine O’Neal said after Wednesday night’s game. “It’s hard to be that good for a long time for multiple reasons: aging, injuries, change in regimes — sometimes that has an effect on your game. But he’s been very consistent at what he does, and he’s very deserving of it.”

Of the 36 NBA players to reach the 20,000-point plateau, only 18 of them scored their first 20,000 for a single team (that includes Pierce). Of those 18, only 16 scored their first 20 grand in the same city. And of those 16, only nine began and ended their careers with the same team. Obviously, Pierce has the opportunity to be the 10th.

“It makes me think about what I went through in my career — just how tough it is to play with one team,” Allen said. “At some points, it gets rocky, because you hit those low points where a team’s not winning.

“Franchises are cyclical in sports. In those lean years he was able to stick it out here, and people still stuck behind him and the team, so that’s commendable. It doesn’t happen a lot these days in sports.”

Pierce’s career in Boston hasn’t been without its ups and downs. In 2005, he was reportedly offered to the Portland Trail Blazers for the No. 3 pick and Nick Van Exel, and the Blazers instead traded the pick to Utah (the Jazz turned that selection into Deron Williams).

“Things change, management changes, sometimes the view changes,” added Jermaine O’Neal. “Once that happens, players tend to move around. It’s a special thing to do it for one team and once city for 13 long years. You’ve got to tip your hat off to him as a peer, as a teammate, and someone that’s watched him. I’ve been a fan of him for a long time.”

None of Pierce’s Celtic teammates and fellow 20,000-point scorers — Garnett, Allen or Shaq — scored their first 20 grand for the same team.

Boston Celtics' Paul Pierce (34) celebrates after making his 20,000th career point on a free throw in overtime during an NBA basketball game against the Milwaukee Bucks, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010, in Boston. The Celtics won 105-102.

Paul Pierce is the fourth member of his own team to reach the 20,000-point plateau. (AP)

FOUR PLAYERS, 80,000 POINTS

Among the Celtics’ four 20,000-point scorers, only Shaq scored his first 20,000 in fewer games (727) than Pierce (889). It took Allen (962) and Garnett (979) almost another season’s worth of scoring to reach the mark.

Our own Mike Petraglia captured Pierce’s reaction to reaching the plateau, so let’s take a look at how the other three felt when they reached 20 grand …

There’s a funny story (depending on how you look at it) surrounding Shaq’s 20,000th point. He scored it as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers on March 20, 2008, in 107-99 victory against the Kings in Sacramento.

However, as a result of Shaq’s criticism of then-King Mike Bibby‘s selection to the Team USA roster over Allen Iverson, a friend of Bibby’s defaced the commemorative ball shortly after the game, inscribing “Shaq is an a**hole” on it.

The defamation clearly angered Shaq, as did the lack of acknowledgement from the Lakers organization on the achievement.

“I’ll just have to get another ball at 30,000,” O’Neal told The Los Angeles Times in 2003.

Shaq currently stands at 28,281 points — fifth all-time. Meanwhile, Garnett has 22,345 at 22nd all-time. KG scored his 20,000th point as a member of the Celtics on March 8, 2008, in a 119-89 blowout of the Memphis Grizzlies — oddly enough, on an assist from Pierce.

“I wasn’t aware coming in,” Garnett told The Boston Globe in 2008. “It’s a great accomplishment for me. I’m more grateful to every coach, point guard, staff member, everybody whose put me in a position to be successful and I just say thank you.

“It’s a bit more meaningful as a Celtic when it happened. It seems like things are lining up for something more beautiful, like a championship.”

A year and a half later, also as a Celtic, on December 10, 2009, Allen scored his 20,000th career point — fittingly, on a 3-pointer in a 104-102 victory against the Washington Wizards. Since then, he’s climbed to No. 28 all-time.

“It’s interesting how basketball’s such a team sport, but it’s governed by so many individual statistics,” Allen told The Globe. “I’m just grateful I’ve had great teammates, I’ve had great coaches, and I’ve had pretty good organizations, and that’s helped me be where I am today.”

In another  strange coincidence that will forever tie the Celtics’ Big Three together, Allen scored his 18,000th point on the night Garnett reached 20,000, and Pierce scored his 19,000th point on the night Allen reached 20,000. Welcome to The Twilight Zone.

PIERCE: GREATEST CELTICS SCORER EVER?

Larry Bird (21,791; No. 25 all-time) and John Havlicek (26,395; No. 11 all-time) are each one of the nine NBA players to score more than 20,000 points, beginning and ending their careers with the same team. Of the two, only Bird got to 20 grand in fewer games (809) than Pierce.

Pierce will in all likelihood pass Bird in the 2011-12 season, but will he ever catch Havlicek?

Since he is signed through the 2013-14 season, Pierce would have to average 19.8 points while playing every single game throughout the course of his contract in order to tie Havlicek. That’s definitely unrealistic.

However, should he play an additional two seasons for the Celtics after his current deal, averaging 16 points and 67 games per year (including this one), he’ll surpass Havlicek to become the greatest scorer in Celtics history.

(Have a question, concern or conception for tomorrow’s Irish Coffee? Send a message to @brohrbach on Twitter.)

Read More: Boston Celtics, Kevin Garnett, NBA, Paul Pierce Print  |  Email  |  Bark It Up!  |  Digg It
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