Clippers’ Paul Pierce starts in emotional farewell at Boston Garden

31 and has appeared in just 12 games this season for the Clippers. “I’m just soaking it all in, enjoying every moment of it, giving it back to the fans what they gave me.”Isaiah Thomas stole the spotlight from Pierce, scoring 28 points to lead Boston to its seventh straight victory, a 107-102 win over the Los Angeles Clippers. “[I will] always have a relationship with these guys; it’s just something that when you win a championship, you know it forms a natural bond with you and your teammates that you share with each other forever. The Clippers got within four in the final minute, 103-99, but Griffin missed a three-pointer from the left side, Horford got the rebound and sank his foul shots.A first-round draft pick out of Kansas in 1998, Pierce toiled in Boston through the down years of M.L. 31 but former Celtics coach Doc Rivers put him in the starting lineup so he could have a fitting farewell.Boston scored the first six points of the game and had a 29-14 lead late in the first quarter. A highlight video at the first timeout appeared to bring him to tears. He had not played since Dec. “When you come back to it, you just kind of go around and reminisce about it and enjoy the time that I had here.”Pierce, 39, hadn’t played since Dec. “So it is, it is like my going-out moment.” 34 Celtics jerseys filled the crowd – more even than the Patriots shirts worn by fans looking to rush home after the game to watch the football team play Atlanta in the Super Bowl. “I’m glad Doc was able to get me out there one last time, knowing that this would be my last game as a player in the Boston Garden,” Pierce said after signing autographs before the game. Thomas had eight assists but had a four-game streak of 35-point games snapped.Blake Griffin and Jamal Crawford scored 23 apiece, and DeAndre Jordan had 16 rebounds for Los Angeles, which lost for the sixth time in eight games. Pierce spent time in Brooklyn and Washington before reuniting with Rivers in Los Angeles.“The memories are always going to be with me,” Pierce said. Pierce’s only points came on a three-pointer after checking in with 19 seconds left and the game out of reach.With fans undecided on whether to cheer louder for the Celtics, for Pierce, or for the New England Patriots, who played in the Super Bowl later Sunday, the basketball team held on as the Clippers cut a 12-point lead to 103-99 in the final minute.Pierce started and played the first five minutes and then went to the bench – even as the crowd chanted his name, egged on by the Celtics cheerleaders and even Thomas himself. The Clippers ran off 10 straight points in the second – five from Raymond Felton followed by five from Jamal Crawford – to make it a two-point game.But it was 56-47 at the half and a 14-point Boston lead at the end of three. The next year, after the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston won its NBA-record 17th championship, and Pierce was the Finals MVP.But as the New Big Three aged, general manager Danny Ainge traded them – and Rivers – off for the draft choices that would help them rebuild. Carr and Rick Pitino, watching as the once-proud team lost a franchise-record 18 games in a row while he was injured in 2006-07. He was still 0 for 1 when went to the bench at the first timeout. And so I’ll forever hold that.”Pierce’s No. Rivers said he went to the team first to ask if it was okay.“They were looking at me like, ‘What a dumb question,’” Rivers said. (He did not return in the first half, and early in the second the Garden crowd broke into a chant of “We want Paul!”)“I spent 15 years here, and these people really appreciate what I was able to bring to the game,” he said before the game. After Griffin missed a three-pointer that could have made it a one-possession game, Pierce checked back in for the final possessions and, with the fans already standing and cheering, hit a three-pointer that was meaningful only to them.As the crowd was filtering out to get home in time for the Super Bowl, Pierce walked back onto the parquet floor, dropped to his knees, and kissed the leprechaun at centre court.Pierce, 39, has said he will retire after the season. With a deafening cheer and a shout of “Let’s go, Pats,” Paul Pierce was back in Boston on Super Bowl Sunday to give Celtics fans one last chance to celebrate the player who helped the NBA’s most-decorated franchise return to the top of the league.Restored to the Los Angeles Clippers’ starting lineup by current and former coach Doc Rivers, Pierce was greeted with a long and loud ovation at his introduction, when the new Boston Garden rang out again with his nickname: The Truth. Al Horford had 13 points and a season-high 15 rebounds for the Celtics. “They wanted him to start, which I thought was great.”Pierce played the first five minutes and missed the first shot of the game. During a silent moment in national anthem, a shout came from the stands: “Let’s go, Pats!”Even walking into the building, Pierce said, gave him chills.“When you spend 15 years in one place, it’s hard to let it go,” he said.