Paul Pierce Stole Al Harrington’s Soul With an Epic Bit of Trash Talk During the 2003 NBA Playoffs: ‘My Adrenaline Was Going and That’s What Sparked it’

Boston Celtics legend and 2021 Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame inductee Paul Pierce never shied away from a challenge during his NBA career, nor was he afraid to mix it up with his opponents.

The Truth didn’t experience much team success with the Celtics until winning a championship with Boston in 2008. Still, he often carried the C’s on his shoulders in the early years, particularly during a first-round series with the Indiana Pacers in 2003. That’s also the same series when he snatched Al Harrington’s soul with an iconic exchange of trash talk.

Paul Pierce put Al Harrington and the Pacers on notice in a Game 4 explosion during the first round of the 2003 playoffs

Paul Pierce and the Celtics held a 2-1 series lead in their first-round series against the Indiana Pacers in 2003. But Boston was in serious jeopardy of losing that advantage on their home floor in Game 4.

Indiana raced out to an early lead in the first quarter and led by 13 at the half. The Pacers were getting contributions from everybody, whereas the Celtics weren’t getting much of anything from Pierce or fellow star Antoine Walker. That began to change in the third quarter.

Pierce launched a personal assault on the Pacers, pouring in 21 third-quarter points on 7-for-10 shooting from the field. Boston outscored Indiana 37-14 in the quarter, and The Truth punctuated the sensational run with an iconic moment.

The 10-time All-Star had the ball in the closing seconds of the third and was isolated against Al Harrington. He promptly began barking at the Pacers forward, who jawed right back at Pierce. The Celtics star promptly took one dribble to his left and buried a three-pointer right in Harrington’s grill.

Pierce had scored the final 11 points of the quarter for the Celtics. He explained afterward that he essentially got caught up in the moment.

“I got on a roll and they just kept giving me the ball. I hit two or three in a row and just fed off the crowd. My adrenaline was going and that’s what sparked it.”

-Paul Pierce (2003), via UPI

Harrington didn’t have a ton to say when asked about the exchange. He merely said Pierce told him, “I hope you’re ready,” but the tape suggests the two had way more banter than that. The referee had to tell both players to knock it off.

That moment, and that game, give insight into who Pierce was as a competitor and clutch shot-maker. He would score 11 more points in the final period, leading the Celtics to a victory and a 3-1 series edge.

The highlight also left an indelible mark on Harrington’s career.

Al Harrington had a respectable NBA career but might best be remembered for his encounter with The Truth

Celtics great Paul Pierce defends Al Harrington during a game in 2005
Al Harrington loses control of the ball to Paul Pierce during a game in 2005 | Stuart Cahill/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

By all accounts, Al Harrington was a very solid NBA player.

The Orange, New Jersey native played 16 seasons in the NBA. He amassed averages of 13.5 points and 5.6 rebounds and even averaged 20.1 points during the 2008-09 campaign.

Harrington also had a role on one of the most beloved teams in Golden State Warriors history. He was part of the “We Believe” team that stunned the Dallas Mavericks in the first round of the 2007 playoffs and featured names like Baron Davis and Monta Ellis.

Yet, it’s hard not to look back on Harrington’s career without calling to mind the image of Pierce mouthing at him and drilling a triple right in his face. Perhaps that’s not the worst memory to have, though. After all, The Truth did it to countless players and teams during his storied career.

Paul Pierce had a number of playoff heroics

Paul Pierce had a flair for the dramatic come playoff time, especially during his Celtics tenure.

The former NBA Finals MVP scored 41 points in Game 7 of the 2008 Eastern Conference semifinals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He infamously left Game 1 of the 2008 Finals in a wheelchair before scoring 22 points in a Celtics win. Pierce also hit a clutch three over James in Game 5 of the 2012 conference finals, one that (at the time) appeared to push Boston to another Finals appearance.

Even in the final years of his career, Pierce found a way to make his mark. He blocked then-Toronto Raptors guard Kyle Lowry in the first round of the 2014 playoffs as a member of the Brooklyn Nets and hit a buzzer-beater in Game 3 of a series between the Washington Wizards and Atlanta Hawks in 2015.

This is all a manner of saying: Paul Pierce was a big-time player. Al Harrington understands that all too well.

Stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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