NBA

Clippers visit Celtics in Pierce's Boston swan song

BOSTON -- While all eyes in the New England area will be getting ready for their Patriots on Sunday, another special event takes place at TD Garden.

Paul Pierce will appear in his final basketball game in Boston.

And Pierce's Los Angeles Clippers will be the latest team trying to slow down Isaiah Thomas.

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Pierce, who hasn't played since Dec. 31, is retiring after the season and will sign a one-day contract with the Celtics before his No. 34 goes up in the rafters next to all the other Boston greats. There was talk coach Doc Rivers would start him Sunday, which happens to be the 18th anniversary of his first game with the Celtics, and play him a few minutes for effect.

"This is my one arena where it's like really saying goodbye to the game," Pierce said Saturday.

"Kobe (Bryant) had like the whole all-year (goodbye) in every arena. But this is just mine right here, I feel like."

Thomas is the current Boston great, a fact not lost on Pierce this week when he called Thomas, "a championship caliber player."

The words hit home with Thomas, who Friday night missed by two points from becoming the first Celtic with three straight 40-point games. He settled for being the first Boston player since 2001 with four straight 35-plus games.

That player was Pierce.

"I didn't know that," Thomas said when apprised of Pierce's words. "That means everything and from a first ballot hall of famer, a Celtics legend to say that about me that means a lot. Like I always say I don't care about what anybody says but my peers and the people who did it before me. For a guy like that, that is crazy. I'm going to try to find his jersey so I can get it signed."

A night after the Clippers suffered their ninth straight loss to the Golden State Warriors, the Celtics (32-18) won their sixth straight, in a game that ended after a Toronto Raptors loss in Orlando ensured Boston coach Brad Stevens will coach the Eastern Conference All-Stars.

Thomas finished Friday night's game averaging 29.9 points per game, which matches Larry Bird's all-time Celtics best, set in 1987-88. Breaking it down, though, Bird finished that season at 29.934, while Thomas was at 29.891 through Friday.

Thomas scored 478 points in 471 minutes in the last 13 home games.

The Clippers, playing without the injured Chris Paul (hand), fell to 31-19 with Friday night's loss and open a five-game road trip in Boston.

"We have 34 games left and we have to play a lot of teams beside Golden State, but we need to get guys healthy to try to weather the storm and take things one game at a time," Blake Griffin said after his season-high 31 points allowed him to pass Bob McAdoo for second place on the franchise all-time scoring with 9,444 points (Randy Smith is the franchise leader at 12,735).

Said big man DeAndre Jordan: "That's a team over there ... we're got to be better."

Pierce is doing a lot of watching as his NBA days dwindle but said Saturday you never know what can happen the rest of the year. He also said he would consider coming back to work for the Celtics.

"I think he's highly respected here and around this league," Boston's Marcus Smart said after Friday's game. "When you are on a team like he was and a guy like he was and do the things that he did, you never really leave this place. Boston is known for making guys feel very welcome and home here. I don't think Pierce will ever be truly gone."