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Clippers' Paul Pierce braces himself for what figures to be an emotional final game in Boston

Clippers' Paul Pierce braces himself for what figures to be an emotional final game in Boston
Paul Pierce spent 15 seasons with the Boston Celtics, leading the team to a pair of NBA Finals appearances, including the 2008 championship. (Al Bello / Getty Images)

Growing up in the shadow of the Forum in Inglewood, Paul Pierce loved all things about the Lakers and loathed all there was about the Boston Celtics.

He idolized Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy, just like all his friends did at Inglewood High. He despised Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Kevin McHale and every other Celtic because that was ingrained in the psyche of Lakers fans.

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Reminiscing about those feelings makes Pierce laugh, because he spent 15 seasons with the Celtics carving out a successful, possibly  Hall of Fame career.

Pierce, who is retiring at the end of this season after 19 years in the NBA, shook his head and then shared his thoughts on playing his last game in Boston on Sunday —  barring an unlikely meeting in the NBA Finals — as a seldom-used forward with the Clippers.

"I lived right down the street from the Forum. I grew up watching the Lakers on Prime Ticket," Pierce recalled. "I couldn't stand the Celtics. I was all about Magic, Kareem, Worthy. I hated Larry Bird.

"It was a tough pill to swallow to be drafted by the Celtics. I didn't even work out for the Celtics during the draft process. Then when I got picked by them, I didn't know what the hell to think.

"So, man, this whole thing has been ironic, just how my career went. You're a Lakers fan and you're a Boston Celtic and you win a championship in 2008 against the Lakers. It's just like it was supposed to happen this way."

Pierce and his wife, Julie, visited some of his old haunts Friday and Saturday, soaking in a city he grew to love and one that loved the 6-foot-7 small forward back after he was drafted 10th overall by the Celtics in 1998.

"I think he's soaking it in everywhere," said Clippers Coach Doc Rivers, who does plan on playing Pierce Sunday. "He really appreciates the game now."

Pierce is the second-leading scorer in the history of the fabled Celtics franchise. His 24,021 points are behind leader John Havlicek (26,395) and ahead of Bird (21,791).

"I think that was probably the highlight of his life, when he was able to beat the Lakers in the NBA Finals and it was a championship with the Celtics," Danny Ainge, Boston's president of basketball operations, said in a telephone interview. "Listen, I grew up in Eugene, Oregon, and I grew up a Lakers fan too and was drafted by the Celtics. Jerry West was one of my favorite players growing up. But that's just how it is. The team you play for is the team you fall in love with. Paul is a true Celtic fan and legend now and I think he bleeds more green than he does purple."

Pierce reached the Finals twice, both times against the Lakers. He won the MVP award when the Celtics defeated the Lakers in 2008.

He was the lightning rod on a Celtics team with Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Rajon Rondo.

"He's one of the Celtics greats," Rondo told a reporter in Chicago. "He was my vet coming in, showed me what it takes to be a professional, how a future Hall of Famer works and how he leads every day."

The pressure Pierce felt playing for the Celtics was immeasurable. He could look in the stands and see Celtics legends like Bill Russell, Bob Cousy and Havlicek at games. Pierce could look to the rafters and see all those retired jerseys and championship banners.

"I played under the lights of retired numbers, a lot of legends, man," Pierce said. "So that right there is pressure in itself when you're out there trying to hold the franchise down and you see the numbers and then you look up and Bill Russell, Cousy, Havlicek and all them are in the stands and you're trying to live up to the expectations that they put [for] the franchise.

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"That's a lot of pressure putting on that uniform as a franchise player. But I'm happy that I was able to deliver a championship and people loved the heart and passion I put into the game out there."

Pirece admitted that he'll probably shed some tears Sunday.

The city of Boston opened its arms to a West Coast guy who once rooted against them with his all.

"I gave a lot of contributions in the community. I really engulfed myself into the city with my different programs, my foundations," Pierce said. "And the city gave the love back. They accepted me. I'm sure it's probably going be an emotional time for me."

UP NEXT

AT BOSTON CELTICS      

When: 11 a.m. PST, Sunday

Where: TD Garden.

On the air: TV: Channel 7; Radio: 570, 1330.

Records: Clippers 31-19, Celtics 32-18.

Records vs. Celtics (2015-16): 1-1.

Update:  Clippers forward Blake Griffin, who has scored 9,444 points in his seven-year career, passed Bob McAdoo (9,434) during Thursday's loss to Golden State to become the second-leading scorer in franchise history, behind Randy Smith (12,735). Boston guard Isaiah Thomas is second in the NBA in scoring, averaging 29.9 points per game. Thomas is averaging a league-best 10.7 points per game in the fourth quarter, the most by an NBA player in 20 years. The Celtics are seventh in the league in scoring, averaging 108.3 points per game, and tied for second in assists, 25.4 per game.

Twitter: @BA_Turner

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