BOSTON — Kevin Garnett grasped for the right word, and he wasn’t convinced he found it, either.
Garnett played around with “unbelievable” and “first-class” to describe the reception he and Paul Pierce got Sunday from the Boston Celtics fans at TD Garden, where the future Hall of Fame duo played its first game since the blockbuster trade that sent them to the Brooklyn Nets last summer.
Pierce called it the toughest game he had ever played. Garnett said the energy in the building far exceeded the feeling for a playoff game. Both were overcome by the emotion of the moment.
And now they are so, so glad it’s done.
“You look up, you see so many Kevin jerseys, my jerseys, so many posters,” Pierce said. “Every second you’re on the bench, every second you’re in the game, people are calling your name. It was really tough for me to focus. I’m glad we got it over with. Now I can go back to just playing basketball.”
A homecoming like the one Pierce and Garnett received Sunday is beautiful, but it also can be taxing. The two dodged questions about the return for days leading up to the game, which had to be tiresome on its own. They turn around and host the Toronto Raptors at home on Monday, so there won’t be any time to recuperate.
They have done fairly well running on fumes, however. Sunday’s victory was the Nets’ 10th in their last 11 games. Now that the so-called toughest game of their careers is out of the way, the Eastern Conference should watch out. If a mentally drained Pierce and Garnett can play like that, imagine what they can do with their minds free of clutter.
A notoriously fierce trash-talker, Garnett didn’t give his former teammates a pass. He playfully taunted Rajon Rondo, who responded with a feinted uppercut to Garnett’s chin, in a moment that was captured on TV. Even when the cameras weren’t on him, Garnett did plenty of yapping, as usual. But he went easy on his old squad, according to Brandon Bass.
“It wouldn’t be a game if KG did not smack-talk,” said Bass, who led the Celtics with 17 points. “But it was to a minimum. He usually does more.”
Rondo doesn’t get many chances to showcase his talents on national TV this season. Playing for a team that’s not very good will have that effect.
The Celtics point guard didn’t waste his chance, though, with the entire basketball world watching Sunday. Rondo broke his previous minutes barrier by logging 30:21 of playing time and stalking a triple-double with 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He shot just 5-for-14 from the field and committed six turnovers, but he hit two 3-pointers and moved as well as he has since he returned to the lineup five games ago.
Few players are able to make as much of their 10-day contracts as Chris Johnson. The former standout on the Rio Grande Valley Vipers of the D-League has been a solid contributor in all four games he has appeared in with the Celtics and seems to be a shoo-in to receive a second 10-day contract from the team.
“I learned a lot from the coaching staff and the players over the last 10 days,” Johnson said after scoring 12 points and grabbing four rebounds in 28 minutes of action. “I have a feel for what the guys like to do. Coach [Brad Stevens] tries to emphasize to me being hungry, and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.”
Johnson did not play in his first official game on the roster, but he came on strong in the last nine days of his deal. He is averaging 10.0 points per game, which would be the sixth-highest average on the team if he had played enough games to qualify.
Johnson can re-sign with the Celtics for another 10 days, which would span another four games, before the team has to make a decision on whether to let him go or to sign him through the end of the season.