BOSTON (AP) — Paul Pierce certainly showed he has a lot more left in his game.
The 35-year old Pierce became the oldest player in Celtics history to score 40 points in a regulation game, carrying Boston to a 103-91 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
‘‘Oh yeah? Oh, wow. Another for the records, I guess,’’ he said, smiling as he stood along a wall near the exit of the Celtics’ locker room. ‘‘I've been here long enough. Who knows, maybe I'll go for 50 one day.’’
Judging by his night, anything may be possible.
Hall of Famer Larry Bird is the oldest ever to score 40 in a game, putting up 49 in a double-overtime contest when he was 35 years, 99 days old on March 15, 1992. Pierce is 32 days younger than Bird was when he reached the 40-point plateau.
The Celtics captain now has scored 23,101 points in his career and is 48 behind Elgin Baylor for 24th on the NBA’s all-time list.
‘‘When I first came into the league I always asked myself, ‘Do I want to be good or do I want to be great?’ Pierce said. ‘‘Every time I stepped out and worked on my game, that’s what I asked myself. I always got here early and worked on my craft as hard as I could because I wanted to be one of the great players.’’
In the first half, he scored 15 on 3-of-5 shooting from the floor, going 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.
Then in the second he showed age didn’t matter.
Pierce made 10 of 11 shots from the floor after halftime, hitting his first eight — including his initial three 3-point attempts. He finished 13 of 16 from the field.
‘‘Maybe I can play a little bit longer than anticipated, who knows?’’ he said, cracking another smile.
Rajon Rondo added 20 points and eight assists for the Celtics, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Jason Terry had 15 points and Kevin Garnett 12.
But it was Pierce that carried Boston after it nearly blew a 20-point lead he helped build.
‘‘He did it in incredible stretches,’’ Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. ‘‘Went back in and picked up where he left off.’’
Kyrie Irving paced Cleveland with 22 points.
Cavaliers center Anderson Varejao, the league’s leading rebounder, missed the game with a bruised right knee after he was hurt in Tuesday’s home loss to Toronto. Tyler Zeller got his first career start and had 20 points for Cleveland.
‘‘You know, it was nothing we could do with him tonight,’’ Cavaliers coach Byron Scott of Pierce. ‘‘Sometimes a guy that’s a great player like that, a future Hall of Famer, sometimes they get it going and there’s really nothing much you can do — and Paul got it going. He hit some shots tonight that I hadn’t seen him hit — or play that way — in a while. Sometimes you just got to pat him on the butt and say, ‘Great job.'’’
The Cavaliers lost their fifth straight and fell to 2-14 on the road.
Boston pushed the lead to 80-60 late in the third quarter, but the Cavaliers went on a 20-2 run spanning the end of the third and start of the fourth, closing to 82-80 on Zeller’s three-point play 3 minutes into the final quarter.
Rondo’s long jumper then started a game-breaking 14-4 run. Pierce, who nailed two jumpers and two free throws in the spurt, finally missed his first shot of the second half — a 3-point attempt from the top with 6:15 to play — after going 8 for 8 from the floor.
Pierce’s fadeaway in the lane made it 96-84 with 3:59 remaining.
He capped his memorable night by making a double move in the lane before hitting a fallaway to make it 98-85 with 3:29 left.
‘‘It’s hard to really explain,’’ he said. ‘‘You feel good, you feel like everything you shoot is going to go in and the rim is bigger than it normally is. You want the ball.’’
The Celtics held an eight-point lead at the half and used an offensive outburst by Pierce to open their 20-point advantage. He scored Boston’s initial five points, nailing a 3-pointer to make it 59-51 early in the quarter. After the teams traded baskets, Pierce scored all of the points in a 12-2 run over the ensuing 3:37, capping it with consecutive 3s from nearly the same spot on the left wing 63 seconds apart to make it 75-57.
‘‘He got hot,’’ Irving said. ‘‘They just kept feeding him.’’
Following two free throws by Cleveland’s Tristan Thompson, Terry nailed a 3 from the right corner, pushing Boston ahead 78-59 with 4:18 left in the quarter. Terry’s jumper made it 80-60 with 3:33 left. Pierce, who was replaced with just under 4 minutes left in the quarter and left to a loud ovation, went 7 for 7 from the floor in the quarter.
After Pierce and Garnett went to the bench, Cleveland scored 12 of the final 14 points in the third, pulling to 82-72 heading into the fourth. Irving scored the final seven points of the quarter.Continued...