Two months after his 35th birthday, Celtics captain Paul Pierce scored 40 points on 16 shots in Wednesday night’s 103-91 victory against the Cavaliers. It took a superhuman effort, as his three most veteran teammates can attest. Maybe that’s why Jason Terry called him Kryptonite in the locker room afterwards.
Pierce, Terry, Kevin Garnett and Jason Collins have a combined 55 years of NBA experience between them, but this was a first. The Celtics captain became the oldest player in franchise history to eclipse 40 points in a regulation game (at 35 and three months, Larry Bird scored 49 in double overtime in 1992).
“Not a lot of guys in this league stay in one franchise,” said Terry. “You can count them on your hand right now. It’s not many that are superstars, that have been in the league longer than 12-13 years, and he’s one of them.”
Terry played his last eight seasons alongside one of those other guys in Dirk Nowitzki, who has stayed in Dallas ever since being selected one spot ahead of Pierce in the 1998 NBA draft. There’s a certain respect among veterans around the league for loyalty like that, Terry said, especially after younger superstars like LeBron James and Dwight Howard jumped ship for the Heat and Lakers early in their careers over the past several years.
As Terry elaborated, Pierce has demonstrated a “willingness to stick through the tough times and not just jump off: ‘I’m outta here.’ ‘I’m going to go join forces with Kobe [Bryant].’ Or, ‘I’m going to go play with Dwyane Wade.’ That’s a shot right there. … I think that’s what guys look at, and they respect him.”
How’s this for respect? Pierce joined Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Shaquille O’Neal, Clyde Drexler, Alex English, Karl Malone, Reggie Miller and Walter Davis as the only players since 1985 to scored 40 points in regulation after turning 35 years old. None of the others accomplished that feat on 16 shots.
“Paul was on fire tonight, man,” added Garnett, who was traded to Boston after 12 up-and-down seasons for the Timberwolves. “Paul had a flashback to like ’03 or ’04 or something, man. It was good to see, though. As we walked in tonight, I could tell — just because it was a long day — that he felt kind of down in the dumps. After the game, I told him, ‘You need to feel more down in the dumps a little more often.’ But he had the rhythm going, and we were just trying to feed him. I thought he did a good job getting it out of the offense and letting it come to him.”