BOSTON — On Sunday, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett making their first return to TD Garden since the trade, the cold reality of the Celtics-Nets swap gave way to the gooey sentiment that makes a sports transaction so un-business-like.
This night wasn’t about the Nets’ playoff aspirations or the Celtics’ accumulation of draft picks. This was about the messy business of emotional attachment, of stubborn bonds between a fan base and players.
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The result of the game—the Nets won, 85-79—is of some consequence, with the Nets having won 10 of their last 11 games as they try to chase down the Raptors for the lead in the woebegone Atlantic Division.
But really, the world will little note nor long remember that score. Such a detail bowed under the weight of the contributions that Pierce and Garnett made to one of the most decorated franchises in sports, one that had fallen on sorry times before the end of July 2007, when the Celtics packaged most of the team’s roster and sent it to Minnesota to acquire Garnett.
In only six years with Boston, Garnett put his stamp on the Celtics, elevating the team to its first championship since 1986. The appreciation of Garnett by the locals was immediate and unquestioned, and when the Celtics’ video screen aired a video tribute to Garnett at the first timeout on Sunday, the ovation was loud and profound.
“This was over the top,” Garnett said. “This was just—the one word that comes to mind is unbelievable. I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first-class type of organization it is, it shows the appreciation of the organization for you. I couldn’t put it into words. Paul and I were joking before the game, who was going to tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat, and I kept it under control.”
Pierce wasn’t so lucky. He said he was able to rein in his emotions during the game, but when meeting with the media after, his eyes were clearly reddened.
“This was the toughest game I ever had to play,” he said. “Tougher than any championship game, any Game 7, this game was just so hard to really just focus and concentrate on what was at hand.”