Paul Pierce is coming back to his original NBA home one final time to play.
The 39-year-old forward is in the midst of his final season before retirement and his Los Angeles Clippers will make their only visit of the regular season to TD Garden on Sunday afternoon (2 p.m. ET on ABC) in a matinee appetizer to the Super Bowl.
Barring an unlikely NBA Finals showdown between the C’s and Clippers or a trade, Sunday’s matchup will be the last time Celtics fans will be able to see Pierce suit up on the Garden floor before his No. 34 is raised to the rafters. The 10-time All-Star spent 15 seasons as a member of the Celtics before being traded to the Brooklyn Nets in the summer of 2013.
Here’s a fun look back at some of Pierce’s most unforgettable moments at the TD Garden over his 19-year career.
April 2003 – First Round vs. Indiana Pacers, Game 4
Pierce produced arguably one of the best moments of trash talk in NBA history. With the clock rolling at the end of the third quarter, a young Pierce and Pacers forward Al Harrington were jawing so much that referee Joe DeRosa stepped in between them during live action to tell them to knock it off. Pierce ignored DeRosa’s advice and proceeded to drill a 3-point shot in Harrington’s face to close out a 21-point quarter for himself. He scored 37 points overall in the contest, carrying Boston to a crucial 102-92 Game 4 win that gave the Celtics command of the series.
5. April 2002 – First Round vs. Philadelphia 76ers, Game 5
In the aftermath of the disastrous Rick Pitino era, Pierce and the Celtics ended a 10-year playoff drought in 2002 and faced off against Allen Iverson and the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round. The defending Eastern Conference champions pushed the Celtics to the brink in Game 5, but Pierce ensured there would be little drama in the series finale, erupting for 46 points, the fifth-highest total in franchise playoff history. The small forward made 8-of-10 3-point attempts and shot 64 percent from the field, helping the hosts blow the Sixers out of the building with a 43-20 fourth quarter that led to a 120-87 win.
4. January 2014 – Pierce plays his first game in the Garden as a visitor
It will be an emotional environment for many Celtics fans on Sunday, but it will be hard to surpass the hero’s welcome that Pierce got during his initial return to Boston. A lengthy video tribute brought the Garden crowd to its feet for several minutes at the end of the first quarter as Pierce fought back tears from the bench. “I was telling Kevin, I was telling everybody — this was the toughest game I ever had to play,” Pierce said after the Nets beat the Celtics in the first year of the Brad Stevens era.
3. June 2008 – Game 1 NBA Finals vs. Los Angeles Lakers
While Pierce still receives some ridicule in NBA circles for using a wheelchair following what looked to be a scary knee injury in the third quarter of the contest, the forward’s production after his quick return to the floor can’t be ignored. The Truth scored 11 of his 22 points after going down, helping the Celtics pull away from the Lakers late for a 98-88 win in Game 1 of the 2008 NBA Finals. The resilient performance ultimately proved to be a key factor in Pierce earning Finals MVP honors five games later.
2. May 2002 – Game 3 Eastern Conference Finals vs. New Jersey Nets
For three quarters, Paul Pierce was out of sync just like the rest of his Celtics teammates, as the visiting Nets piled on a 21-point lead. Antoine Walker gave passionate speech before the final period though and Pierce took those words to heart, leading the biggest fourth-quarter comeback in NBA playoff history. The future Hall of Fame forward scored 19 of his game-high 28 points in the fourth, as the Celtics fought back from a 21-point deficit to beat the Nets 94-90. The comeback also produced one of the most iconic moments of Pierce’s career as he stood on the scorer’s table and celebrated with the Garden crowd after the win.
1. May 2008 – Game 7 Eastern Conference Semifinals vs. Cleveland Cavaliers
A young LeBron James could never quite get the best of Pierce during his first stint with the Cavaliers. But his showdown in 2008 with the Celtics small forward was one of the best duels in NBA playoff history: The back-and-forth affair brought back memories of the Bird-Wilkins battle 20 years earlier as Pierce went for 41 points while LeBron scored 45. Ultimately, it was Pierce who closed the door on LeBron late with a couple of free throws with seven seconds remaining, one of which benefitted from a friendly Garden roll. “I think the ghost of Red (Auerbach) was looking over us,” Pierce said after the game. “I think he kind of tapped it in the right direction, and it went through the net and put a smile on my face.”