BOSTON — Brad Stevens has now presided over the Boston Celtics through two emotional homecomings. Neither time did he think the reception was excessive or undeserved.
If anything, the rookie NBA coach came away with a greater appreciation for his new hometown.
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett made their returns on Sunday, playing their first game at TD Garden since the trade that sent them to the Brooklyn Nets last summer. A pair of emotional video tributes to the duo played on the scoreboard during the game, and both times Stevens called off his timeout huddles to allow his players to applaud.
Stevens never coached Pierce or Garnett, but as he acknowledged after practice on Saturday, “some things are bigger than the game itself.” The roar for Garnett and (especially) Pierce exceeded the prolonged ovation Doc Rivers received upon his return in December. In his first season on the sideline in Boston, Stevens has gotten two strong tastes of the city’s passion for its team.
“The only thing I can say is what I said on the bench, and that is, this town gets it,” Stevens said. “This town is special, and you can see why. All the people who have gotten a chance to play here, whether they played here for a year or they played here for 15 years, they all talk about how special it is. You know that coming in, but you can feel it on nights like [Sunday].
“It was really a great tribute to both guys, obviously extremely well-deserved. I wish we could have come out on top at the end. We just didn’t have quite enough from a basketball standpoint to finish it.”
Pierce often had enough to finish games as a member of the Celtics, and on Sunday he offered his former employer a glimpse of what it was missing. After Chris Johnson hit a 3-pointer to pull Boston within three points, Pierce connected with Andrei Kirilenko for a layup and scored one of his patented step-back jumpers to put some distance between his old team and his new team. Those baskets ended up being necessary for the Nets to hold off a last-minute comeback attempt by the Celtics.
Maybe Boston “gets it,” but they didn’t quite know how to react to Pierce’s heroics. He only had six points, so there wasn’t much to cheer, but when Pierce was hitting shots or setting up teammates, fans weren’t sure whether to cheer or boo. Warm receptions are nice, but when there is a game to be played, even their beloved “Truth” became the enemy — which probably proves Stevens right. Those fans did “get it” after all.