Paul Pierce’s heart was absolutely broken.
His eyes were red. His voice was shaky. Depression was in every word he said and in every movement he made.
This, he said, is how you’re supposed to feel when a season ends, when the playoffs don’t finish with the trophy in your hand, a cigar in your mouth and your jersey soaked with champagne.
He might play again. He might retire. All he knew was that he was in horrible pain.
“It’s a tough pill to swallow,” Pierce said in Portland. “If you’re any type of competitor, if you have any type of dream, you’re always thinking about winning that championship. … I don’t want to make an emotional decision.
“Every heartbreak makes you want to come back.”
But instead of rubbing the corner of his eyes to fight back the pain, he filled two clear garbage bags with his sneakers. He asked if someone could throw them in his trunk. He thanked the locker room attendants for their hard work. He said goodbye. And, most importantly, he was able to smile.
“I really enjoyed myself with this group this year. Regardless of what happened today with the basketball, I’m happy. …What’s I’ve been able to accomplish, what I’ve been able to do with my career, I gave every ounce I could. I have no regrets.”
Pierce signed with the Clippers as a free agent before the 2015 season, reuniting with Doc Rivers and trying to recapture the magic they had in Boston, where the Celtics were able to win one championship and compete in the Finals for another.
On the court, it never came together.
Pierce’s game matched his age. He struggled to adapt to the inconsistent minutes necessary to keep him healthy. And, he never got the championship parade in Los Angeles he dreamed about while growing up in Inglewood.
Still, he walked out of the Clippers’ locker room Sunday at peace.
He leaves the game with 26,397 points — 18th-most all time and two more than Celtics great John Havilcek.
”Paul Pierce is ‘The Truth,’” Kobe Bryant told The Players’ Tribune.
In his final game in Boston, Pierce stepped into a last-second three-pointer and drilled it, sending the crowd into hysterics.
And in Los Angeles, he was able to play in front of his mother, Lorraine. Friends from the old neighborhood, family members who never could make it to Boston, Pierce would look up from his seat on the Clippers’ bench, see them and smile.
Late this summer, Pierce knows things will feel different. He won’t pick up the ball the same way. He won’t try to get his slowing body back up to speed for another NBA season.
“Maybe in those months, when I get up and I don’t have practice, it’ll hit me more,” he said.
But there won’t be any itch to try and win one more ring, to hit one more contested step-back, to hit another late-game shot.
He gave Staples Center a couple of those moments Sunday, rebounding from a badly missed first three-point attempt to score six points — on a made three-pointer and vintage-looking drive and free throw.
He walked off the court, hand in the air, waving to the fans in his hometown. The ending destination wasn’t where he planned, but he was good with it.
“I enjoyed this ride,” he said.