After a 15-season run with the storied Boston Celtics that included a 2008 NBA championship and an NBA Finals MVP award, Paul Pierce returned to Boston and ran out onto the famed parquet floor as a visitor for the very first time Sunday night at TD Garden.
At this stage of his career, the future hall of famer can't light it up or take over a game quite like he used to, so no one really expected a vintage performance of 25 or 30 points, like he so often delivered when the jersey he wore read "Celtics" across the chest, instead of "Brooklyn."
Pierce, the No. 2 scorer in Celtics history — with 24,021, behind only John Havlicek's 26,395 — went scoreless in the first half and only put up six points on 2-for-10 shooting against his former team in an 85-79 Nets victory.
But this game wasn't about Brooklyn winning for the 10th time in 11 tries, nor how Pierce, who averages 12.9 points, 3.1 assists and 4.8 rebounds this season, played in his return. It was about a rabid fan base honoring one of its all-time favorites.
Sometimes teams, players and/or media try to give a game or moment in sports more meaning or weight than it deserves. Pierce's return to Boston lacked any whiff of being contrived. The mutual love and respect between "The Truth" and Boston's fans gave what was an otherwise mostly uneventful game for the first three quarters a hint of something special.
A Beantown legend, Pierce couldn't resist bringing up his special trip on Twitter — @paulpierce34 — before and after the game:
To give you a more complete sense of what Pierce experienced in his anticipated Boston debut as a Net (the Celtics lost at Brooklyn in December), here is a timeline of what went on at TD Garden:
Once game time finally arrived, the Boston faithful got up on their feet for pre-game introductions.
To cheer for the Nets.
Watch and listen as the crowd welcomes back Kevin Garnett and Pierce — both traded this past offseason as the Celtics blew up their roster in order to build for the future.
As difficult as the whole experience must have been for Pierce, imagine watching an emotional tribute video that documents 15 years worth of highlights in the midst of all the hoopla and, you know, trying to win an NBA game.
That's exactly what happened during the break between the first and second quarters.
Check out the video — complete with a perfectly placed clip from "A Few Good Men" — accompanied with Pierce's reaction.
Pretty awesome stuff, and truly a homecoming worthy of a franchise hero. Standing ovation. Prolonged cheers. People welcoming you back instead of booing and hoisting signs that read things such as "traitor" because you stopped wearing the uniform of their favorite team.
Pierce missed all three of his shots in the first half, but finally got one to fall in the third quarter, on one of the moves that made him a feared scorer for so long with the Celtics.
After the game, Pierce spoke about the draining night, how unique it was and what challenges it provided.
Here is a clip from the post-game press conference with Pierce and fellow former Celtic Garnett:
The full Q&A session is available at the Celtics' website.
And you'll want to take the time to read Adrian Wojnarowski's piece for Yahoo Sports about the relationship Pierce and Garnett had with the city, the Celtics and the franchise's employees. The following is just a taste from Wojnarowski:
Within the organization, Pierce's generosity was legendary. He fought for the lowest of assistants and basketball staff to get playoff bonuses, and he used to give the team's traveling party $1,000 each to spend on the annual trip to the Nike employee store outside of Portland. Inside and outside the organization, Pierce was generous with commitments of time and resources, relentlessly championing children's causes and charities.
To wrap up Pierce's memorable return, here are a few of the better photos that popped up on Twitter:
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