Pierce Gets Lost on Way to Game

February 6, 1999

  On his way to the FleetCenter yesterday afternoon for his NBA debut, Paul Pierce got lost. Last night, midway through the opening quarter, he and his Celtics teammates lost their way again, seeing their early lead evaporate on the way to a 103-92 loss to the Raptors. Pierce arrived in plenty of time for the game, which he called "an old-fashioned horsewhipping." Despite the outcome, he was happy just to be playing. "I waited seven months for this season to start and I never thought it would get here," he said. "I wish things were a little different, but it is only one game and there are 49 to go." Pierce, who scored 19 points, had his moments. His play was statistically similar to what he did in the two exhibition victories over Toronto.

In 39 minutes, he hit 7 of 14 shots from the floor, pulled down 9 rebounds, blocked 4 shots, and dished off 5 assists. The problem was that the Raptors didn't resemble the team the Celtics played in the exhibition games. "I knew they would be different," said Pierce. "I didn't expect them to play the same." It was a nerve-wracking evening. His mother, Lorraine, and brothers, Jamal and Steve, traveled from Inglewood, Calif., to attend his debut.

He didn't want to disappoint them. He telephoned his college coach, Kansas's Roy Williams, and talked to a few of his old teammates. "This was a day I waited all my life for, since the time I started playing basketball," he said. Pierce understandably was tight when he listened to Red Auerbach address the crowd of 17,892 during pregame ceremonies. "But once the game started, I felt better," he said. "I'm nervous before every game, but it's different when you put on a Celtics jersey. There is a lot of history with it." His first moments on the parquet were not very historic.

"I didn't want to rush things," he said. "I didn't want to get carried away in the emotion of it. I figured I would settle down." He took two shots in the first half, and his first NBA points came on a driving layup with 6:25 remaining in the second quarter, cutting Toronto's lead to 38-34. In the second half, he brought the crowd alive with back-to-back 3-pointers and an attempted baseline dunk on which he was hammered. That's what he will remember about his professional debut: rolling around on the parquet with Charles Oakley's knee affixed to his ribs.

"Yeah, it was like 'Welcome to the NBA,' " said Pierce. "I didn't expect Toronto to play like they did in our two exhibition games. I knew they'd be tough, especially the two big men [ Kevin Willis, Oakley] underneath." Losing at home is unique for Pierce. He never lost a home game at Kansas and can't remember losing one at Inglewood High School. "But this is the NBA and it's going to happen," he said. "You just got to move on." He isn't going to fret about the loss. "It's over," he said. "I got to get my mind on [ tonight's] game." Pierce talked about getting better. He got plenty of minutes and looked brilliant at times. But there were a couple of terrible shots and poor drives to the basket when he should have kicked out passes. Simple rookie mistakes. Playing on equal terms against Toronto rookie Vince Carter, who was selected ahead of Pierce in the draft, wasn't anything to gloat about. "I just want to play well against everybody," said Pierce. "It doesn't matter if a team didn't draft me. I just want to win."

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