Paul Pierce appeared strong-willed as ever during the 2000-01 season. But what the Boston Celtics forward hid from family and friends was a severe bout of depression marked by anxiousness and paranoia.

Pierce opened up about that depression in a recent interview with ESPN’s Jackie MacMullan, detailing how his Sept. 2000 stabbing affected him for years to come.

“I felt like I was trapped in a box,” Pierce told MacMullan. “I couldn’t go nowhere. I battled depression for a year. The only thing that saved me was basketball.”

The Celtics forward played in all 82 of Boston’s games that season — and averaged a then-career-high 25.3 points per game — despite being stabbed multiple times outside a Boston club less than a month before the season opener. But Pierce admitted fear played a role in driving his incredible recovery.

“I think that’s the reason I got back on the court so fast,” he said. “Me sitting at home thinking about (the stabbing) didn’t work. I went to every practice, sat on the sideline for hours, because that’s where I felt safe. I didn’t want those practices to end because then I had to go back out there in this world that really scared me.”

Pierce became so paranoid that he ordered a 24-hour police detail outside his Lincoln, Mass., home shortly after the stabbing. He also developed a fear of crowds and had to back out of a Celtics promotional event that required him to greet fans at the arena before Boston’s season opener.

“If I got in a crowded place, I’d start shaking inside,” he said. “It took me years to get over that. If I was walking and someone bumped into me or rubbed against me, I’d freak out.”

Pierce ignored the team’s suggestion to seek help for his mental issues, thinking he could wrestle his demons by himself. Now, as players like Kevin Love and DeMar DeRozan are attempting to change the stigma around mental health by discussing their own battles with depression, Pierce wishes he had sought counseling.

“I should have opened up earlier than I did,” he said. “It was eating me alive. Once I finally started talking to a family member, it helped me.”

“I realized, ‘I should have done this sooner.’ I would tell everyone to get the help they need. My depression was bad — really bad. I never want to feel that way again.”

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