By Mike Shalin
The same people should have also told the Celtics.
With Celtics greats spread around courtside waiting for the Paul Pierce festivities, the home team was embarrassed on national television – with the Cavs serving notice the moves they made at the deadline puts them right back into the Eastern Conference title picture.
There was 1:24 left in the third quarter and the Cavs, rebuilt on the fly at the trade deadline, were ahead 95-69 – and the crowd started chanting “We want Paul Pierce.”
But there was more embarrassment to first endure before they could watch the Pierce’s No. 34 making Pierce the 23rd person honored in the rafters.
That’s what the day was all about for the local fans, right? The game. The game. The game was a mess.
The new Cavaliers – George Hill starting and Jordan Clarkson, Rodney Hood and Larry Nance Jr. coming off the bench, the four combining for 49 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and a plus-43.
Everything the Cavaliers did, they did with relative ease. You got the feeling the retired guys in the crowd and Pierce might have done a better job.
Pierce first emerged from the locker room area with 36 minutes left before tipoff. Wearing a Celtics green plaid jacket, he drew a huge ovation from those early arrivals as he made his way over to appear on ABC. Every time he moved, the crowd cheered.
He was seated with his family in the front row under one of the baskets and was treated to video tributes during timeouts. The first one was in the spot actually originally allotted to Isaiah Thomas, who was supposed to be in with the Cavs but was traded in their impressive yard sale.
There was Magic Johnson. There was Kobe Bryant. There was college coach Roy Williams. Then the camera picked up Danny Ainge sitting with Doc Rivers – and then Celtic great Tom Sanders, Antoine Walker, Robert Parish, Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett. No Ray Allen, who has been shunned by his former teammates for having the audacity to sign with the Miami Heat. He was on the golf course.
Earlier, Parish had said Pierce was better than Larry Bird offensively. Heresy?
“It would be one of those two,” Rivers said before the game. “It is not a deep argument, at least. Paul was a professional scorer. He really was. I joke a lot with Paul – when I was coaching the Magic, and he had the one big game against us, and I went in the locker room and ripped my team because I was like, ‘This guy is not fast, he’s not athletic,’ I mean – and I actually called him overweight. I said, “There’s no way this guy should be scoring.’
“And then when you coach him, you see that he is fast, he is athletic, but he beats you with his brain. I mean, he beats you with fundamentals and his footwork. So, I would agree. I just think Paul, for one basket, Paul or Larry. But Paul, to me, was unstoppable. In his prime, he was – he was as un-guardable as there were.”
The ceremony was special. James Posey, now a Cavs assistant, stuck around for the festivities.
During his speech, which ended with him in tears, Pierce thanks Pat Roy, his high school coach who told him he would one day become a pro. He thanked Williams because “he pushed the hell out of me” and made him throw up from first college workout.
He thanked the fans, saying, “When guys play here and they go someplace else, they say no fans are like Boston.”
He thanked Ainge, saying Ainge was “cleaning house” after taking over the organization but didn’t trade him. Talking about Garnett, he related a story where Garnett told him, “He said his only regret was not coming here five years earlier.”
Tommy Heinsohn wasn’t on hand (he narrated a special video with a Sean Grande script), but Pierce said, “I’ve got a lot of Tommy points in the bank – can I cash those in.”
He finished with “Celtic pride will always be with me and my family – last nut not least where would I have been with the fans.”
Then, taking the microphone one more time, he said, “I know Red Auerbach is looking down on us. Thank you, Red. Thank you. Thank you.”
During his speech, there were shouts from the stands, one screaming, “Paul Pierce for president.”
Then, out of nowhere came the words: “Bleep LeBron.”
That brought people back to what had happened on the court. The current Boston players and Brad Stevens and staff came out and sat on their bench for the ceremony — and they wisely didn’t come out until the lights were turned down.
“It was a good night for the new guys,” James said. “It was a good night for all of us.”
Not for the current Celtics, who suffered a second home loss in three days and played NO defense.
“We stunk but they had a lot to do with it,” said Stevens.