Clippers’ Paul Pierce starts in emotional Boston farewell

Los Angeles Clippers forward Paul Pierce points while warming up before an NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Sunday, Feb. 5, 2017, in Boston. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)

BOSTON — Paul Pierce walked back onto the parquet floor one last time, dropped to his knees at center court and gave the Boston Celtics leprechaun logo a big kiss.

“Lucky’s been through it all with me, the ups and downs. He helped me out on a couple of occasions,” the former Celtics captain said.

“It’s the last time I’m going to touch this floor as a player. I’m sure I’ll be back as a fan.”

With a deafening cheer and a shout of “Let’s go, Pats,” 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. A highlight video at the first timeout appeared to bring him to tears.

“Fans really showered me with a lot of love,” Pierce said after the Celtics won 107-102. “You really don’t know what you’ve meant to a team while you’re playing. It hit me a lot tonight, but I’m sure it’s going to hit me a lot more when I’m done playing.”

After starting the game — his first appearance for the Clippers since New Year’s Eve, Pierce sat on the bench until the game was out of reach. But in the final seconds, with the fans already standing and cheering, Pierce launched a 3-pointer for one final eruption.

“I’m glad I was able to cap it off, my last game in the Garden,” he said. “At least I can just say I put one last bucket in at the end of the game.”

A first-round draft pick out of Kansas in 1998, Pierce toiled in Boston through the down years of M.L. 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. The next year, after the Celtics acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, Boston won its NBA-record 17th championship.

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. Pierce spent time in Brooklyn and Washington before reuniting with Rivers in Los Angeles.