BOSTON — Wednesday night was an ideal night for Delonte West to make a return from his 10-game suspension.
The Celtics were home and well-rested, four days removed from their grueling road trip the previous week. They were facing a bottom-feeding team in the visiting Washington Wizards. And the Wizards' backcourt was significantly weaker with the absence of injured rookie John Wall. This was the right game for West to make his comeback.
Then again …
"Any game was perfect for me," West said. "I just wanted to be back and helping out. I?m so excited to be back. I'm thankful to the Lord for giving me this second opportunity, and I'm going to make the best out of it."
It was a big night for West, who was completing a comeback story in more ways than one. Not only was it his first game back from a 10-game suspension, issued this summer after the guard pleaded guilty to weapons charges last year, but it was his first game back in a Celtics uniform since April 16, 2007.
So when West checked into the game with 3:12 remaining in the first quarter on Wednesday night, it was a pivotal moment, in his basketball career and in his life.
"I was anxious," he said. "I was wondering how the crowd was going to respond. But then they showed me a lot of love, and I almost had a tear in my eye. Then Nick Young drained about four buckets in a row, and all the tears dried up real fast. I remembered I was back in the NBA."
West's first possession back with the Celtics was an assist to Paul Pierce — just like old times. He played an extended stretch in the first half, giving Ray Allen some much-needed rest, and he settled into his role well. He ended up playing the entire fourth quarter, too, for 21 minutes in all. He finished with 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting, five rebounds, four assists, a steal and a block in his Celtic debut.
"Delonte looked really good," Kevin Garnett said. "We saw him when we got back from the road trip, and we could just tell he had been doing double-days. We get the feedback from his work, and we were just happy he was out there. He's going to be big for us, man. We're glad to have him back."
There was speculation this week that the Celtics would ease West back in slowly — give him shorter minutes at first, allowing him to get his feet wet before he dove headfirst back into the NBA.
But that wasn't Doc Rivers' style. Rivers thrust West into it right away, and he had no regrets later.
"Delonte was terrific," Rivers said. "He was a little bit rusty at first, but after halftime he probably got his legs a little bit. He just played terrific. Obviously he gives us offense, but he also just gives us another tough guard on the floor. That's good for us."
West didn't disagree with the coach's assessment of being "a little bit rusty." He admitted that in the early going, he was still feeling his way around with the Celtics' second unit.
"I didn't want to do too much," he explained. "Sometimes doing too much is not what the team needs you to do. But the second unit responded well in the second half. In the first half, our timing was just off. Marquis [Daniels] had missed a few practices, and I'm still getting back in the mix. We're trying to adjust to playing with one another. But the biggest thing was we got the victory."
West has been through a lot in the last 14 months. On Sept. 17, 2009, he was pulled over on his motorcycle near his Maryland home and arrested on weapons charges. On July 15, he pleaded guilty, and on July 26, the Cleveland Cavaliers unloaded the baggage and shipped him away to Minnesota. A week later, the Timberwolves cut him.
West wasn't sure if he would get a second chance. But on Wednesday night, he got it.
"It felt great," he said. "For a minute there in the summertime, I thought I was never going to see an NBA court again. But I just thank the Lord, the ownership here, the coaching staff and Danny Ainge. They know what I'm about. They know the difference between a bad decision and a bad person. I?m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do."