Remembering Paul Pierce’s Famous Wheelchair Game


Paul Pierce’s championship journey in 2008 showcased heart-stopping moments, but Celtics fans held their breath when he took a tumble in Game One of the NBA Finals

Former Boston Celtics star, Paul Pierce, has inspired so many basketball fans around the world during his time with Boston. However, nothing was more inspiring, or bizarre, than his infamous ‘Wheelchair Game’ versus the Los Angeles Lakers in Game One of the 2008 NBA Finals.

As a sports fanatic, idolizing your favorite basketball player can be tough – the wins, the losses and the disappointment can be an emotional roller-coaster. In a similar fashion, Celtics fans have spent the past decade marveling at the heroics of their Captain, Paul Pierce.

In retrospect, Pierce was never the most athletic NBA star to grace the hardwood and never quite broke into the mainstream sports media cycle. Even for newer NBA fans, it may be difficult to understand how Pierce was able to captivate Celtics fans throughout his most loyal years with Boston.

Remember your favorite childhood superhero? You might have been intrigued by their superhuman strength, badass demeanor, or maybe just liked their ‘good guy’ attitude. Some heroes have a small factor of mortality, but it’s their supreme resilience throughout adversity that makes them so great.

Yeah, Paul Pierce was that  Celtics superhero.

Resilience is at the core of every basketball underdog story – from the on-court fireworks of ‘Linsanity’, to Brad Stevens‘ Butler Bulldogs making the NCAA Men’s Final two consecutive years.

Pierce, who’d stuck with Boston through the years of disappointment, was finally playing in his first ever NBA Finals series versus Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers.

Most people, basketball fan or not, have at least some understanding of the Celtics and Lakers rivalry in the NBA. The basketball world was excited, with this being the first time the two teams had matched up in the NBA Finals in 21-years.

However, Boston’s leader got off to a slow start, scoring just three points in the first half of the game. But despite Pierce’s struggles, Boston trailed by just five points at the half, with Los Angeles leading 51-46.

But then, like the hero he was, he showed up.

Looking to find a burst of offensive energy, Pierce squeezed in a tough layup around three defenders just 20 seconds into the third quarter. He was looking for more, with next trip down the floor, the Celtics were looking to get Pierce going again.

After receiving a pass from Kevin Garnett, Pierce faked the deep three-point attempt, making Vladimir Radmanovic jump right into his body. Feeling the contact, Pierce hoists the long shot, banking it in and sending the TD Garden crowd into absolute pandemonium. All of this was followed by one of the most violent fist pumps ever, I might add.

With another pull-up jump shot, Pierce had opened the third quarter by scoring a total of eight points in about a minute. Boston was coming.

Seven minutes remained in the third quarter and Kobe Bryant brought the ball up the floor. With the help of a Pau Gasol slip screen, Bryant drove down the lane. Pierce hedged Bryant to the right side of the lane, forcing him to take a tough shot.

Kendrick Perkins rose up, probably no more than a few inches, to attempt a weak block attempt. As Kobe’s shot rattles in, Perkins comes down and lands on Pierce, striking his elbow down on Pierce’s left shoulder.

Pierce fell straight to the ground, grimacing as he clutched his right knee. After a wave of audible gasps, the Boston crowd fell silent. Head athletic trainer, Eddie Lacterte, rushed out to check on Pierce and his teammates quickly followed.

Things quickly fell into a spiral of uncertainty when Pierce rolled over, still rubbing his knee and covering his face. At this point Celtics fans began to wonder if this would mean that their team would have to play the rest of the Finals series without their leader.

Play needed to resume and Pierce had to go back to the locker room to be evaluated by Boston’s medical staff. There must have been some uncertainty that Pierce could make it under his own power, so Boston’s staff made the necessary adjustment.

Enter Wheelchair

Then things got strange. Completely and utterly bizarre. It took Celtics guard, Tony Allen and two medical members from Boston’s staff to lift Pierce from the ground and place him into a wheelchair.

Seriously, a wheelchair.

The crowd, like innocent bystanders were shocked and pale-faced like, “this must  be bad, right?”

Pierce had everyone’s attention, but this craziness had delayed the game long enough and it had to go on. Just as quick as he was thrown into this mess, Pierce was rushed back down the tunnel to the locker room, still grimacing in pain. A small army of Celtics staffers escorted Pierce down the way and to the locker rooms.

The broadcast switched to show Pierce being pushed down the hallway to give viewers a closer look. Instead, like an irritated celebrity being hounded by paparazzi, the medical staff intentionally blocked the cameras view of Pierce being carted away.

So then we probably all said, “OK, now  it’s bad, right?”

The Return

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Remember now, Pierce was wheeled off the court with 6:49 left in the third quarter. There were murmurs, even from the commentators, that his Finals series could over.

Throwing back to the concept of resilience, with 5:32 remaining in the third quarter (just over a minute) he was back.

The hero, ‘The Captain’ and ‘The Truth’ bounced around on his feet as he emerged from the tunnel. With a look of determination, Pierce high-fived Celtics fans as he made his way back to the bench.

From here, Pierce was met with a standing ovation from the crowd as he checked back into the game with five minutes remaining in the third quarter. Boston had a one-point lead following a Ray Allen free throw. Pierce had a visible black sleeve over his right knee, for either compression or bracing purposes.

Everyone watching had to be thinking, “is he playing injured?”

As strange as the entire scenario was for fans of both teams, and even Pierce, it was a cool moment.

Resilience or showmanship?

The fairy-tale story finally came to fruition later on in the third quarter. Pierce was trailing the play as Rajon Rondo sped the ball up the floor. Nothing more than a little shovel pass was needed to hit Pierce behind the three-point line. He rose up, not seemingly bothered by the ‘injured’ knee and nailed the three-point shot, putting the Celtics ahead by one point.

The next play Rondo raced up the floor again, with no one ahead of him he spots a trailing Pierce behind him. From the exact same spot on the floor, Pierce squares his feet as he receives the pass from Rondo and fires away. Pierce shows off his trademark lean-in jump shot and rattles in the three-point shot, making it back-to-back buckets.

He brings the fans to their feet as he receives a thunderous ovation. The leg seemed fine, as he helped the Celtics take Game One, finishing with 22 points.

People began to query whether the injury was fake, while others believed he showed superhuman resilience.

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Whether it was a real injury (rumoured MCL tear), scripted or an elaborate a publicity stunt, there is no denying that the theatrics of the entire incident were possibly the greatest that sport fans had ever seen.