Boston Celtics captain Paul Pierce passed Larry Bird to move into second place on the franchise’s list of all-time leading scorers during Tuesday night’s 94-84 win over the Charlotte Bobcats at TD Garden.
Pierce buried a 3-pointer from the right wing with 10:23 to go in the third quarter to move past Bird, who scored 21,791 points during his career, spent entirely with the Celtics. Only John Havlicek has scored more in team history with 26,395 points.
On the cusp of leapfrogging Bird, Pierce swore Sunday that he wouldn’t even think about the milestone moment during Tuesday’s game.
After two days of hype, Pierce found himself more weighed down by expectations than he anticipated at the start of Tuesday’s game. It was obvious that just about everyone in the building showed up to see him score nine points and those points were not going to come easy, even against an inferior opponent.
After missing seven of the 10 shots he put up in the first half, including five 3-pointers, Pierce made his second shot of the third quarter, a 3-pointer from the right wing with 10:23 to play to slide past Bird.
“I’m not going to lie, it was hanging over my head too much,” Pierce said of his first-half struggles. “How could it not? With every deep breath that the crowd was taking, every shot that went up, it was just like, you could just feel it. And it was hard to really ignore it and really focus on the game.
“Then Coach (Doc Rivers) said, ‘Hurry up and get it out of the way.’ It was a relief once I hit that one 3, so I could really concentrate and focus on the game.”
Pierce finished with 15 points, bringing his career total to 21,797, on 6-of-18 shooting. He flirted with a triple-double by adding nine assists and eight rebounds over 37:17. With the milestone in the rear-view mirror, the Celtics were able to focus on pulling away from the Bobcats, who have just three wins on the season.
“I thought they tried so hard in the first half, I actually thought it was never going to happen,” Rivers said. “It was unbelievable how our guys were passing up shots. They were doing everything to try and get him his thing. But it was really nice.”
The crowd serenaded Pierce with a long ovation as play continued after the 3-pointer pushed him a point past Bird. Jermaine O’Neal committed a shooting foul at the opposite end of the floor (and got tagged with a technical as well) to finally stop play.
Pierce, who like Bird has spent his entire career with Boston, acknowledged the roaring crowd, raising his arms numerous times, then signaled for the fans to get louder while standing at half court as Charlotte’sReggie Williams was shooting free throws.
During the first full timeout following the milestone, Pierce was honored with a tribute on the Garden video screen and went to half court to take a bow as the crowd roared again.
“We have great fans,” Pierce said. “They’ve seen it all from my younger days, from my trials and tribulations, to this point today and it’s a great honor just for them to be able to stand up and give me that type of ovation. Being a Celtic for all these years and understanding what it means to be a Celtic and the ups and downs you go through just to come to this point in your career, it really means so much the support that they have given me over the years.”
Kevin Garnett admitted Tuesday that all of the Celtics were conscious of the milestone.
“It couldn’t happen to a better person,” Garnett said. “I’m so happy for him.
“I’ve been knowing (Pierce) since we were 13 or 14, just seeing him progress and grow as a man. It’s beautiful. I’m happy for him and his family.”
Pierce sits 28th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list. He soon will leapfrog another former Celtic inGary Payton (21,813) and is on the heels of San Antonio’s Tim Duncan (22,009) with eyes on moving into the top 25.
Big Three brethren Ray Allen (24th) and Garnett (19th) already are in that club, as are Celtics legends Robert Parish (23,334 — 18,245 of which came in Boston) and Havlicek.
Rivers tried to offer perspective on the accomplishment.
“It’s just awesome,” he said. “You’ve got to have several things. One is longevity. The second thing is health. And the third thing is you’ve got to be old as hell because you’ve got to stick around a long time. And then the fourth thing: You’ve got to ball. You’ve got to play some amazing basketball.
“You know, passing Larry Bird — that’s impressive.”
Could Pierce make a run at Havlicek’s mark?
“I think the fans will really appreciate another championship, (more) than me passing Hondo,” Pierce said. “So that’s my ultimate goal.”
Photo Credit: Getty Images.