10/23/2012 - 15:11
With Opening Night One Week Away, Paul and Company Ready For Their Rivals
Ryan Laughlin and the Paul Pierce Team
136 days ago, Paul Pierce and the Boston Celtics had their season ended by their biggest Eastern Conference rival, the Miami Heat. Seven days from now, they get their first rematch.
Some of the names and faces on each side have changed, but Paul Pierce will still be wearing #34 for the Celtics, and he plans to make a statement when the two rivals battle next Tuesday night.
In 2008, the shoe was on the other foot. Nearly four years ago to the day from opening night, it was Paul receiving his first championship ring in front of Lebron James on opening night, just a few months after defeating James' Cavaliers en route the NBA Finals. Paul, the NBA Finals MVP, delivered a game-high 27 points on that emotional opening night.
"It's moments like these that you cherish," Pierce said after that game. "Whenever you can raise that banner and grab that ring, and be there in front of the people closest to you, it's very emotional.
"I'm just glad I pulled together in time so we could come out and play the game."
This time, as Paul watches the Heat's second NBA Championship banner rise into the rafters, he won't be dwelling on what could have been. He'll just be focused on getting the win. That's because Celtics coach Doc Rivers has instilled an aggressive mentality in his team.
"I have my eye squarely on Miami," Coach Rivers said this offseason. "I come up to my players during the year - they're in the facility now - I bring up Miami every single day to them.
"I want them to hate them," Rivers said. "I want them to beat them. That's gotta be our focus."
Over the past few years, the Celtics-Heat rivalry has hardened into one of the toughest in basketball, but something happened this off-season that's sure to make these games even rougher: Ray Allen's decision this offseason to sign with Miami. Like any departing free agent, Ray received his share of criticism from Boston fans and media. But Paul was sympathetic about Ray's decision, and demonstrated that maturity when he spoke about the team this offseason.
"Ray made the best decision for him," Pierce told the team's official website Thursday in his first public offseason comments in August. "That's what it's all about: You get in these situations, you become a free agent and you make a decision based on what's best for you and your family.
"Ray will always be a brother for me," Paul continued. "If it wasn't for him, I probably wouldn't be wearing a championship ring. So the things he was able to do for this organization will never be forgotten."
Paul understands where his friend is coming from. But could Paul himself envision wearing another jersey after being a member of the Boston Celtics for 14 years?
"It would be difficult," Paul admitted recently. "I was telling somebody the other day that I was pretty much institutionalized. If I go anywhere else...I couldn't see it."
Boston Celtics fans wouldn't have it any other way.
Paul and the Celtics visit the Miami Heat Tuesday night, October 30th, in their first regular season action of the 2012-13 season!