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ON SEPT. 25, 2000, Paul Pierce was stabbed multiple times at the Buzz Club in Boston. One of the knife wounds was seven inches deep, just inches from his heart. Pierce underwent emergency surgery for a collapsed lung and later contended that the thickness of his leather jacket saved his life.The face of the Celtics franchise stunned everyone by recovering in time to play all 82 games that season. As everyone marveled at his speedy physical recovery, Pierce privately grappled with the mental scars of the incident, which took years to heal.For the first time, Pierce discusses the debilitating bout of depression that left him so unglued that he ordered a 24-hour-a-day police detail outside his home in Lincoln, Massachusetts."I was stabbed 11 times," Pierce tells ESPN. "I felt like I was trapped in a box. I couldn't go nowhere."I battled depression for a year. The only thing that saved me was basketball."Long after he was released from the hospital, Pierce remained nervous, jittery, anxious. He couldn't sleep. The Celtics urged him to seek counseling, but he waved them off. "I thought, 'I can do this myself,'" Pierce recalls. "I didn't want anybody else in my business."But as the weeks dragged on, moving around in public spaces became almost unbearable for Pierce. The trauma of the event had stripped him of his confidence. His anxiety spiked while dining at Morton's restaurant in Boston just a few months after the stabbing, when the manager approached him with a house phone and said a friend was insistent on speaking with Pierce. He picked up the receiver, and a menacing voice sneered, "I'm going to kill you.""So now I'm really paranoid," Pierce says. "I don't want to go anywhere. The police sat in the front of my house for months. I was a mess."I think that's the reason I got back on the court so fast. 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.""I would tell everyone to get the help they need. My depression was bad -- really bad. I never want to feel that way again."Incredibly, Pierce managed to average 25.3 points and 6.4 rebounds during the 2000-01 season. It was a tumultuous season for the Celtics, who won only 36 games and whose coach, Rick Pitino, quit midseason. Pierce didn't care. Basketball was his sanctuary."I couldn't be near crowds," he says. "If I got in a crowded place, I'd start shaking inside. 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."Before the 2000 season opener, the Celtics ran a promotion in which they stationed players at the entrances of the arena to greet fans as they filed through the turnstiles. Pierce agreed to be part of it, but when it came time to participate, his heart rate spiked, his palms began sweating, and he started to experience shortness of breath. He was having a full-blown panic attack."I told the Celtics, 'I can't do this,"' Pierce says. "[The second year] I thought I was better, but I lasted about two minutes, and then that panicky feeling started up again. I was sure something bad was going to happen to me."In retrospect, Pierce says, he wishes he had listened to the Celtics and talked with a mental health expert. His decision to deal with his post-traumatic stress on his own heightened his depression and isolated him from friends, family and teammates."I should have opened up earlier than I did," Pierce admits. "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."