By Staff

BOSTON (CBS) — Celtics fans haven’t had much to cheer for during an up and down start to the 2021-22 season. They finally got a moment Wednesday night though, thanks to a blast from the past.

While COVID-19 is wreaking havoc on rosters everywhere, one of the silver linings is all of the G League players and stars of yesteryear now making their way to the NBA. On Wednesday, it was Joe Johnson signing with the Celtics — the team that drafted him 10th overall back in 2001 — that broke the internet.

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So when fans shuttled into TD Garden to see the Celtics take on the Cavaliers on Wednesday night, a lot of them had just one thing on their mind: Iso Joe.

It took a while for Ime Udoka to grant them their wish, as the Celtics let a big lead dwindle down to 12 points late in the fourth quarter. But as the game clock ticked down, the chants for “Iso Joe” grew louder and louder. The 40-year-old finally checked in with 1:57 left to go in the game, leading the Garden crowd to hysterics.

The roof nearly blew off when Johnson finally got a look with 23.3 seconds left, coming off a pick-and-roll and draining a nice fadeaway jumper from just inside the right elbow. It’s a shot that he made thousands and thousands of times during his NBA career, even a few times in his brief first tenure as a Boston Celtic.

It was Johnson’s first hoop — and first game — with the C’s since Feb. 16, 2002. A lot has changed with his game since he last played for the Celtics, evolving into an elite and deadly shooter and earning the nickname “Iso Joe.” He’s hit a lot of buckets during his career, but Wednesday night’s hoop will take a special place in his mind.

“It felt great,” Johnson said after the 111-101 Boston win. “It was fun. I couldn’t ask for nothing more.”

It capped off a whirlwind few days for Johnson. He found out just a few days ago that he’d be returning to the NBA after spending the last two years dominating the BIG3 league, winning a pair of MVP honors. The fact that he was returning to Boston brought back a giant rush of emotions.

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He arrived in town Tuesday night and got some shots up Wednesday morning. Then he made a familiar walk into TD Garden and into the Boston locker room, and he was serenaded with warm welcomes from Boston fans when he took the floor before the game.

Then as Boston kept upping their lead throughout the contest, the demand for “Iso Joe” grew louder and louder. It reached a whole new level when he finally checked in. That reaction — and the one that followed his made jumper — is something that Johnson will never forget.

“It is kind of surreal for them to chant my name like that,” said Johnson. “Then for us to get the win, first and foremost, and to come out and to be effective, that’s fun.”

Udoka would have loved to have gotten Johnson and the other extra bodies a lot more run, but he was happy with what he saw from the veteran in the brief appearance.

“He joked in the locker room, ‘If I get them on my hip, they’re done.’ We know what he is,” said Udoka. “Everyone said as they walked in, ‘Joe is a bucket.’ That’s what he is and always has been, and that isn’t going to change. I’m happy for him.”

With seven players currently in Health & Safety Protocols, the Celtics signed Johnson to a 10-day contract on a hardship exception. Whether he sticks around for longer once Boston starts to get players back from protocol remains to be seen.

But for a brief time at least, Johnson’s return to the Celtics is giving Boston and sports fans a feel-good story. Johnson is back where it all started for him, and even at the age of 40 after a successful NBA career, he is cherishing every moment that comes his way.

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“At my age, you try to relish every moment, enjoy the process and live in the moment,” he said. “That’s what I’m doing right now and it’s fun.” Staff