BOSTON (AP) — After the highlights were shown on the scoreboard and the two former Celtics acknowledged the latest in a series of standing ovations, the cameras panned up to the rafters, where the franchise has hung more banners than any other NBA team.
First shown was the list of retired numbers, where two blank spots should eventually be filled: with Paul Pierce's No. 34 for certain and probably also the No. 5 that Kevin Garnett wore for his six years in Boston. Then the scoreboard showed the 2008 NBA title banner the two won in their first year together with the Celtics.
"That was our era. No one can ever take that away from us," Garnett said after the Nets beat the Celtics 85-79 on Sunday night. "I think we will always bleed green as long as we play basketball. We'll bleed green when we're six feet under."
Fans erupted in applause for the two former champions, who were traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer when the Celtics decided it was better to rebuild without them than try for one last run with their aging All-Stars. There was a standing ovation when they came out on the court and another when they were introduced.
But the biggest cheers of all came when the players were recognized with separate scoreboard tributes: Garnett's during a timeout late in the first quarter and Pierce's in the break between the first two periods. Each time, the sold-out TD Garden was prepared, going silent in anticipation as soon as the video boards went black.
"This was a good homecoming, man," Garnett said. "This was over the top. I had lumps in my throat."
Garnett looked down at first, but eventually his eyes wandered to the video that showed his time in Boston from the press conference heralding the arrival of the New Big Three to his postgame yell after eliminating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals: "Anything is possible!" He waved to the crowd, blew a kiss, thumped his chest and smiled at all of the fuss.
Pierce seemed more emotional, looking up from the bench as his NBA life was replayed on the screen. From the time the Celtics took him 10th overall in the 1998 draft until last summer's trade, the player known as "The Truth" had spent his entire career in Boston. In addition to the on-court highlights, which included him receiving the '08 NBA Finals MVP trophy, Pierce's video had several scenes of him reading to children and working in the community as well as a clip of Jack Nicholson shouting, "You can't handle the truth."
The former Celtics captain waved, raised both hands above his head and clapped and mouthed, "Thank you. I love you." The crowd stood and cheered for the entire time between the first and second quarters, breaking into a chant of "Thank you, Paul Pierce!"
"As long as I'm in the league it's going to be tough, because I know I'm going to have to come back to the Boston Garden," Pierce said. "You put so much energy in one spot, and there's always going to be memories."
Continue reading this story on the...