BOSTON (CBS) – Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made their first return to the TD Garden as members of the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday night, and Celtics fans got a chance to thank the two former C’s for all they did for the Boston organization.
Pierce and Garnett were welcomed with rousing ovations when introduced before the game. The crowd went nuts again when Garnett won the opening tip, and the evening was filled by cheers whenever either of the two touched the ball, and even more cheers when either of them scored.
There were countless “thank you” chants during timeouts, and both players were honored with video tributes early in the contest. Garnett’s began with the SportsCenter announcement of the Celtics and Timberwolves completing the franchise-altering trade for Garnett, and ended with his famous “Anything is possible!” cry following their 2008 championship-clinching victory.
The BeeGee’s “You Should Be Dancing” provided some of the soundtrack, the song that serves as Boston’s unofficial victory cigar in blowout victories. The song got plenty of play during Garnett’s time in Boston, but Gino, the famous dancer showed in the video who quickly became one of Garnett’s favorite parts of Boston, did not make an appearance on Sunday night.
Pierce’s video came just a few minutes after Garnett’s, and was filled with all the memorable moments of his career in Boston; from Pierce being drafted 10th overall in 1998 to the playoff comeback against the Nets in 2002, the 2008 NBA Finals, and, of course, the famous “you can’t handle the truth!” clip from A Few Good Men that popped up whenever the Celtics needed a key basket.
Pierce, who served as Celtics captain for 13 years, finished with just six points in 29 minutes on 2-for-10 shooting, and said his return to Boston was one of the most difficult games of his 16-year career.
“I was telling Kevin, and everybody this was the toughest game I ever had to play,” Pierce said following Brooklyn’s 85-79 win. “Tougher than any championship game, or any Game 7. This game was just really hard to focus and concentrate on what was at hand. At the end of the day we had a game to play but it was so hard to really focus.”
“This was over the top,” said Garnett, who also scored six points in the Brooklyn win. “I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you. And I couldn’t put it into words.
“Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat,” said Garnett. “I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it. But, man, this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”
Pierce said he and Garnett didn’t do much during their quick trip back to Boston, but did get dinner with Rajon Rondo on Saturday night. Pierce said it was hard to sleep Saturday night in anticipation of his Garden return, and it was even tougher come Sunday afternoon.
“I saw so many friends, so many people I’ve known for years. Ugly cornbread Maxwell (Cedric Maxwell) back there, my man, my main man. It was hard to really get into my routine, you have a routine when you come and get ready for a game and it never settled in and you thought about the time, the friendships, the relationships and it was just, you get showered with love the whole game,” said Pierce. “You look up and see so many Kevin jerseys, my jerseys, posters and it’s every second you are on the bench and in the game people were calling your name. I’m happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball right now.”
“I really just tried to focus and get back to the hotel and try to get some rest and couldn’t think about anything but [Sunday] really, it was even hard for me to sleep. Laying in a downtown hotel in Boston when I’m used to being at my house. Getting into the arena, coming in the backside, and making a left instead of a right. Everything was so different, and it was great though,” said Pierce.
One woman caught Pierce’s eye. She was shown on the jumbotron, tears coming down her face as she held up a Pierce jersey.
“I did notice that,” he said. “It was tough, it was tough for me to swallow. I was probably about five seconds from shedding, five seconds I’ll admit to it. No words that can really describe the shower of love here.”
For Pierce, Sunday night was a quick reflection on the 15 hard-fought seasons he spent wearing a Celtics jersey. Garnett only spent six years in Boston, but his impact was immediate as he transformed the franchise and made them immediate title contenders.
But one thing is clear, as it was before Pierce and Garnett were traded in July: no matter what uniform they wear, the two will always bleed Celtic green.
“I think we will always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living,” said Garnett. “Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”