HOUSTON — The heartbreaking and tragic day ended with Kevin Garnett and Kevin McHale embracing for several moments after the Celtics’ loss to the Rockets.
With emotions stemming from the Connecticut school shooting overflowing Friday at the Toyota Center, Garnett walked over to McHale after the Rockets’ 101-89 victory and held the Rockets coach, grieving the Nov. 24 death of his daughter, Alexandra, from lupus.
Garnett and McHale have a long history, with McHale serving as the general manager in Minnesota during Garnett’s playing days there. McHale traded Garnett to the Celtics, with Garnett feeling unappreciated by Minnesota management. But all those feelings dissipated as Garnett embraced McHale.
“KG and I, we go way back, he’s a good guy, there will always be a special place in my heart for Kevin,” McHale said. “We spent a ton of time together when he was a young guy. It was very nice. It was a long day today for me.”
Said Garnett: “I just want to say my condolences go out to all the families in Connecticut. Anybody that has kids, a niece, any kind of siblings, someone that they love, it’s just been a tough day. I just wanted to get it off my chest and say my condolences go out to all the parents out there. I seen Kevin and kind of had an emotional moment with him, so it’s been an emotional roller coaster today.”
Celtics coach Doc Rivers called the school shootings in Newtown, Conn., “awful” and addressed the tragedy with his team before tipoff.
“I don’t know what right answer is [in whether I should address the team], I know a lot of our guys are talking about it,” he said. ““It was awful, just awful day,” he said. “It really is. This is our jobs. You know? This is not a game for us. This is what we do but when something like this happens, it supersedes job and everything else. As a parent, this is awful, awful what happened.
“I saw a guy do an interview there with a Celtics shirt on. So that does make it part of our community, that area. It’s probably 50-50 Celtics or Knicks in Connecticut. But this is a national incident.’’ I think it hits home because we’re all parents and it’s just senseless.”
Lee gets the starts
It was apparent that Houston general manager Daryl Morey wanted to clear salary cap space to pursue Dwight Howard and sign Omer Asik and Jeremy Lin, so there was little room for Courtney Lee.
Lee, who was acquired by the Celtics through a sign-and-trade deal in July, still has at least one admirer in Houston: McHale.
“I am a big fan of Courtney’s,” McHale said. “Courtney’s a great kid. I really enjoyed coaching him last year. He’s a wonderful person. I miss being around him. He’s got a great personality. He was a joy to a coach and really a joy to be around.”
That admiration is returned from Lee, who started Friday at shooting guard for the first time since Nov. 9. He scored 8 points.
“Yeah, that was my man, we had that mutual respect for each other,” Lee said. “When he played and now coaching, the way I played for him, I just go out there and do what he told me to do. So just being on the same page you build that respect for each other.”
Lee reached out to McHale following the death of his daughter last month. Lee was moved by McHale’s response.
“When it happened, I sent him a text and surprisingly he sent me one right back,” said Lee. “So that just kind of showed the respect level and how much he thinks of me to respond.”
“I know if I was going through that and I was getting a lot of text messages, it would kind of throw me off a little bit.”
Morey made it clear that Lee was available for a sign-and-trade deal and the Celtics mustered enough assets — E’Twaun Moore, JaJuan Johnson, and Sean Williams — to get the deal done.
Extended break for Barbosa
Rivers said Leandro Barboaa had been squeezed out of the rotation because he liked the bench’s production but the veteran should return soon.
Barbosa was a sparkplug for the Celtics during the first few weeks of the season but he has played just four minutes the past four games as Rivers tightened his bench rotation. With four games in the next six nights, beginning with Friday’s against the Rockets, Rivers will expand the bench. Barbosa, who did not score in 6 minutes and 28 seconds, has not scored since Nov. 30 against the Blazers.
“I liked where we were going with Courtney, Jet [Jason Terry] combination and the only way you do it is by taking someone out of the minutes,” he said. “We’re going to go back to using [Barbosa] immediately. We needed extend our bench a little.”
Rivers said the Celtics showed interest in Asik, but the asking price was too high. He signed a three-year, $25 million back-loaded deal with Houston . . . Paul Pierce laughed when told Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said he looks forward to when the Celtics retire his No. 34. “I’ll be happy to be there,” he said . . . Rockets guard Toney Douglas is 17 for his past 31 from the 3-point line after hitting 2 of 3 Friday night. He was acquired in an offseason trade with the Knicks . . . Avery Bradley is on the trip and took shots during shootaround but Rivers said he had no idea when Bradley would return . . . Royce White, whom the Celtics considered drafting before the Rockets took him 16th overall, remains out after a dispute with the team over his anxiety disorder treatment.