As Paul Pierce is set to be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame on Saturday, Sept. 11, we took a look back at his impressive 19-year career in which he became one of the greatest Boston Celtics of all time.
In scanning for anecdotes on the soon-to-be Hall of Famer, we realized that Pierce's career started in a game against the Toronto Raptors on Feb. 5, 1999, when he faced off with another star rookie in his draft class in Vince Carter.
Pierce was selected by the Celtics with the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NBA Draft, while Carter went fifth overall to the Raptors.
The highly anticipated debut of the two young stars was held at the Fleet Center in Boston, MA, a throwback name for anyone that remembers or is familiar with the venue.
The entire game happened to be documented on YouTube, so in peak offseason form, I took the time to watch Pierce's first game against Carter and jotted down some thoughts on the event.
For basics, the Raptors came away with a 103-92 victory over the Celtics behind a monster performance from Kevin Willis, who went for a double-double of 28 points and 16 rebounds.
MORE: Pierce was at his best in the clutch | Pierce's most legendary moments | Guide to the Hall of Fame Class of 2021
For more interesting and in-depth analysis, we have you covered with some thoughts on the game below.
Thoughts from Paul Pierce's NBA debut vs. Vince Carter and Toronto Raptors
Coming off of the 1998-99 NBA lockout
If you were wondering why these two rookies made their debut on Feb. 5 - which is typically closer to the All-Star break - it's because there was a lockout prior to the 1998-99 NBA season. Opening Night wasn't until Feb. 5, so teams only played 50 games during this regular season.
The broadcast hit the viewers with a reminder of that right away, dropping a graphic on the different promotions teams were running throughout that year to get fans back into the building after a hiatus of NBA basketball.
Below, you can find the promotions the Celtics and Raptors ran at their home arenas.
The starting lineups
The Celtics started: Kenny Anderson, Ron Mercer, Antoine Walker, Tony Battie and Pierce.
The Raptors started: Alvin Williams, Doug Christie, Charles Oakley, Kevin Willis and Carter.
Some serious throwback names here. What was even more intriguing was the broadcast stating that only three players on the Raptors' 1998-99 roster were with the team during training camp the season before. Going through a complete overhaul in Year 4 of the franchise, Toronto had nearly an entirely new starting lineup, with Christie being the only returning starter.
Christie, Reggie Slater and Tracy McGrady were the only three players that carried over from the start of the prior season.
This isn't super noteworthy, but I still thought it was interesting.
The Celtics' first sub was... Bruce Bowen? I forgot he ever played for Boston until he checked into the game.
The Raptors' first sub was... Dee Brown? Now, see, I thought he would've been on the Celtics! Turns out, he was traded from Boston to Toronto during the 1997-98 season. You learn something new every day.
Rookies have to earn their keep
I got through about eight minutes of the first quarter before realizing I hadn't seen Pierce take a shot yet, and I knew Carter didn't take many. I don't know if that was on head coaches Rick Pitino of the Celtics and Butch Carter of the Raptors for not drawing up plays for them, or on the veterans of each respective roster for not feeding them, but they sure didn't pay much attention to the two top-10 rookies on the floor.
Turns out, Pierce would go his entire first quarter in the NBA without taking a shot, while Carter only got two shots.
It was the Walker and Christie show.
Walker took 11 shots and scored 11 points, while Christie took nine shots and scored 10 points.
An ugly first quarter
If you're reading this, now is your time to thank me for continuing to watch this game after suffering through a first quarter with team stats like the ones below.
High-quality free throw shooting, though!
Let's talk about Antoine Walker
I started watching this for the Pierce versus Carter battle, but turns out, I would end up being most captivated by Walker and the way he was talked about throughout the broadcast. Full disclosure, I grew up in Boston and saw plenty of Walker shimmying after made 3-pointers when it was both the Fleet Center and the TD Banknorth Garden.
Even at a young age, I realized there wasn't a shot that Walker didn't like. But after watching this footage, it looked like Walker came out in the 1998-99 season gunning for a scoring title. He was coming off of a season in which he was a first-time All-Star, averaging 22.4 points per game, which was good for fifth-best in the NBA, so the hype was there. But this quote from Celtics' head coach Pitino - who was also Walker's college coach at Kentucky - was jaw-dropping, talking about wanting more than just scoring from his star player.
"What we want (from Walker) is more of a stat line like Oscar Robertson, which very few players can achieve, because he averaged a triple-double for a season" Pitino stated in an interview that was replayed after a timeout. "We want Antoine to score less, pass more, make better decisions and rebound the basketball more so his line is significant in every category. That's the type of ability that he has."
A Walker-to-the-Big-O comparison was not something I expected during this exercise.
Anyway... back to the program.
Pierce gets going in the third
After only scoring two points on two shots in the first half, Pierce caught fire in the third, sending the Fleet Center into a frenzy. He knocked down back-to-back 3s from the same spot early in the third quarter, heating up quickly.
He would score 13 of his 19 points for the game in the third frame, going 5-for-9 from the field and 2-for-2 from 3.
He started feeling it so much, that in the fourth quarter, he showed some of those forgotten Pierce hops by trying to dunk all over Alvin Williams, which was ruled a flagrant foul because of how hard the contact was.
A full-court press?
Pitino came straight from the college ranks to the Celtics, so this shouldn't have surprised me as much as it did. With Boston trailing in the second half, they broke out a designed full-court man-to-man press to try and create some turnovers. You certainly don't see much full-court press in today's NBA, unless it's at the very end of the game, trying to come up with a steal or foul. Pitino had his team full-court pressing from about midway through the third quarter until the very end of the game.
A quarter and a half of man-to-man full-court press. That sure is something.
A slight taste of Vinsanity
Toronto was trying to hold on to a double-digit lead with just over five minutes remaining, looking to hold off the fast-paced Celtics and energetic Fleet Center crowd. The Raptors came up with a defensive rebound off of a missed 3-pointer and ripped a quick outlet pass ahead to Oakley, who had Carter running by his side. Knowing the bounce his teammate had, Oakley lobbed it up over the defender Mercer, finding Carter on the end of an alley-oop that he made look much easier than it really was.
Raptors hold on to win the Pierce vs. Carter debut duel
There wasn't much of anything eventful after that, as the Raptors would keep a double-digit lead the rest of the way and win 103-92.
Pierce would finish with an impressive stat line of 19 points, nine rebounds, five assists, four blocks and two steals, while Carter would finish with a solid 16 points, three rebounds, two assists, two steals and one block.
If Pierce's four blocks stuck out to you, you're not alone. His career-high for blocks was only five - which he recorded twice - nearly setting his career-high in his first-ever NBA game. He recorded four blocks in a game just seven times over his 19-year career.
After a quiet first half where he didn't get many looks, Pierce went on to have a pretty promising debut.
He would go on to average a quality stat line of 16.5 points. 6.4 rebounds, 2.4 assists, 1.7 steals and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 43.9 percent from the field and 41.2 percent from 3-point range as a rookie. He and Carter were both named to the All-Rookie First Team later that season.
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