It finally happened. Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce returned to Boston wearing different laundry. It was bittersweet, but mostly sweet, to see the reception they got from the crowd. It won’t be the last time they play in Boston, and they will certainly both get their numbers 5 and 34 raised to the TD Garden rafters when it’s all said and done, but the first one is always a shock, even though we knew for six months.
Here is KG’s tribute video, and here is Pierce’s. These are two players who meant so much to the Celtics they needed separate in-game tributes. Larry Bird retired when I was two, so these guys are the two best Celtics I ever remember watching. Pierce was in Boston for a decade before winning in 2008. KG was drafted by Kevin McHale in Minnesota, and was one of my favorite players even before he wore green. When they came together, along with Ray Allen, Doc Rivers, and Rajon Rondo, there was something special from the very first day. The Celtics had three aging veterans who were hungry to win, and they won. The 2008 Celtics were one of the best teams the NBA has ever seen. They played great defense, and played unselfish basketball on both ends of the floor. The became the biggest thing holding LeBron James back from winning titles, and were the toughest match for Kobe Bryant’s Lakers for a six year span.
Even in leaving Boston, Garnett and Pierce were selfless. When Ray Allen left, he joined the Celtics’ biggest rival in the Eastern Conference and gave them nothing in return. KG and Pierce agreed to be traded, and that trade is the foundation for the C’s rebuild. The Brooklyn Nets started off slow, have been hot lately, and could be a contender, but without KG and Pierce, the core of the team is flawed and expensive. When the Celtics start getting draft pics from Brooklyn, the Nets has the chance to be really bad. They are playing out the back nine of their careers in Brooklyn, but they will always be Celtics. Pierce’s pregame interview with Celtics play-by-play announcer Mike Gorman said a lot about what being a Celtics meant to him, and you can tell he still thinks of himself as a Celtic.
My favorite part of last night’s game was when they did the players introductions for the Nets and Kevin and Paul got their big ovations, but as soon as Nets head coach Jason Kidd was announced, the Garden crowd flipped the switch and loudly booed Kidd. Nostalgia is great, and as much as Celtics fans love Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they still have that same amount of hate for longtime rival Kidd. That crowd got it. I hope the crowds at Celtics games continue to have that same level of passion as Danny Ainge works to make them a championship contender again. It can’t happen overnight, but they’re heading in the right direction thanks to #5 and #34.