Going back to TD Garden has become even more routine for Paul Pierce, who made four trips the last two seasons while playing for the Brooklyn Nets and Washington Wizards. Pierce called his first trip back to Boston the toughest game he had ever played because of the emotional deluge he experienced amid a video tribute, standing ovation and chants of "Thank you, Paul Pierce."
Never have Rivers and Pierce walked into the visitors' locker room in Boston together, however, which will make Wednesday night a first of sorts. The Clippers will play their final game before the All-Star break against the Celtics, whose fans might make it unclear at times where their allegiances lie.
"You've got two Hall of Fame guys who have won a championship there, so I'm pretty sure it will be a little emotional for those guys," Clippers center DeAndre Jordan said before continuing with a dollop of humor. "Hopefully, Paul doesn't cry."
Rivers guided the Celtics to a 416-305 record and seven playoff appearances in his nine seasons with the team, including the 2008 NBA title. Pierce's roots run even deeper. Only John Havlicek and Robert Parish played more regular-season games as a Celtic than Pierce, who logged 1,102 while spending the first 15 seasons of his career with the franchise that drafted him out of Kansas. Only Larry Bird (24.3) averaged more points for the Celtics than Pierce's 21.8.
"He started it all," Rivers said of Pierce's impact on the Celtics' winning their most recent championship. "He was there with me and even before me through some hard years, so he persevered and got a ring and so I think he probably epitomizes the city more than any single player over the last 30 years and it's really cool. He'll get a great applause."
Pierce, 38, is averaging career lows in points (5.7 per game), rebounds (2.8), field-goal accuracy (34.3%) and minutes (17.6). But he should be somewhat refreshed after resting Monday during the Clippers' 98-92 overtime victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
There is also the matter of whether this might be the last time Celtics fans see Pierce play in an NBA game. He has said he will decide whether to retire this summer.
"He may play next year, he may play the next year after that," Rivers said, "but he could hang it up, and so I think every time he walks into that building, really over anybody on our team, Paul's the guy."
Keep the momentum going
It's just a one-game difference, but a 4-0 trip for the Clippers would have a completely different feel than going 3-1.
"We've got to close it out," point guard Chris Paul said of beating the Celtics.
The Clippers have had more success on the road than any team in the Western Conference besides Golden State, their 18-9 record trailing only the Warriors' 23-4 mark. They have been particularly strong lately, winning 13 of their last 15 road games.
It may be hard to believe after the Clippers started the season 7-8, but they're on pace to eclipse last season's 56 victories. They've gone 28-9 since their poor start and are now 35-17, slightly better than the 33-19 record they held at this point last season.
One of the biggest differences between this season and last has been the Clippers' ability to finish games, illustrated by successful plays they have used in the closing minutes of victories such as the misdirection screen that freed J.J. Redick for a tying three-pointer with 10 seconds left in regulation Monday.
"I think just watching how we have grown in execution alone," Rivers said, "it's a huge step from last year, so that gives us a shot."
CLIPPERS AT BOSTON CELTICS
When: 4:30 p.m. PST.
Where: TD Garden.
On the air: TV: Prime; Radio: 980, 1330.
Records: Clippers 35-17; Celtics 31-22 before Tuesday.
Record vs. Celtics (2014-15): 2-0.
Update: The Celtics are playing their best basketball in Brad Stevens’ three seasons as coach, having climbed into third place in the Eastern Conference standings. They had won nine of their last 10 games before playing Milwaukee on Tuesday, and even their losses have been close —the Celtics have not been beaten by double digits since an 89-77 defeat against Cleveland on Dec. 15. Boston’s rise is also tied to the ascent of guard Isaiah Thomas, a first-time All-Star who twice attended Clippers guard Chris Paul’s summer basketball camp.
Follow Ben Bolch on Twitter @latbbolch