WALTHAM, Mass. — When the video board at TD Garden shows the planned tributes to Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett on Sunday, Brad Stevens and the Boston Celtics will be doing the same thing 18,000-plus fans in attendance will be doing:
Watching intently, standing respectfully and honoring two legends in their shared homecoming.
That’s the only way Stevens, who also has paused to recognize Bill Russell and Doc Rivers this season, believes he can rightly pay homage to two of the greatest Celtics players of the past two decades.
“There are moments that I think are big, obviously,” Stevens said Saturday at the Celtics’ practice facility. “I think we all get caught up in a game, but there are bigger things than the game itself. I don’t think it’s anything out of the ordinary that we would do that, but we’ll get in and out of the huddle as quickly as we can.”
Pierce and Garnett make their first trip to Boston as members of the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday. The future Hall of Fame duo was traded to Brooklyn, along with Jason Terry, as part of a blockbuster deal last summer that brought Gerald Wallace, Kris Humphries and other spare parts to the Celtics. Several reports have indicated the Celtics are planning two tributes — separate videos for Pierce and Garnett — which means Stevens may need to adjust his timeout plan not once, but twice.
Rajon Rondo played seven seasons with Pierce and six with Garnett, the most of any current Celtics player. He said he was unsure what sorts of emotions he might feel seeing his ex-teammates in a different uniform, playing on the parquet floor. But he said he does not expect it to shake up the Celtics.
“I don’t think it’ll affect our guys,” Rondo said. “Especially the guys that are starting, they’re all pretty much veteran guys. G, Hump were part of the swap, so they’ll be ready to go. Brandon [Bass] has been through it. I don’t think it’ll affect us at all. It’s part of the process. This isn’t the first time guys have come back in this building and gotten a standing ovation. It may not be the last.”
Saluting an opponent was not a known characteristic of the Garnett-era Celtics. They were infamously standoffish when Ray Allen, a crucial member of the 2008 championship team, returned as a member of the Miami Heat last season. It may be odd, then, for some of their old teammates the honor Garnett and Pierce upon their return as members of an enemy organization on Sunday.
Yet those former teammates maintained that they won’t feel any conflicting emotions. They will give Garnett and Pierce the recognition they deserve, then get down to business.
“That’s a tribute to the hard work those guys put in, day-in, day-out, and also what they brought to the team and the organization,” Bass said. “I’d like to envision myself getting one of those one day. I don’t mind it at all.”
There will still be a game to be played, of course. Stevens’ gesture of kindness should not be mistaken for weakness. If the Celtics can give their former leaders a deserved nod and then give them a hard-fought game, that might be the most fitting tribute of all.
“I just think [honoring them] is what you have to do,” Stevens said. “At the same time, then we’ve got to turn our mindset to playing as well as we can, because those guys, first and foremost, achieved what they achieved because they’re competitive guys. They want to do well, so we’re going to have to get in that mindset, too.”
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