The first video tribute came late in the first quarter, during a timeout. Against a white backdrop, a number, all in green, spread across the TD Garden Jumbotron: 5.
Cheers began to build from the sellout crowd of 18,624, there Sunday to see Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce play their first game in Boston since the Celtics icons were traded to Brooklyn last summer. Signs dotted the crowd. “WELCOME HOME!” read one. “THANK YOU” read another.
Then, the memories began to roll: highlights of the trade that brought Garnett to Boston in 2007; a shot of him holding his No. 5 jersey next to Ray Allen and Pierce on the day the new Big Three stood aligned for the first time; Garnett banging his head against the basket support before a game; dunking, blocking a shot, roaring, telling the Garden fans to “keep this mother rocking!”
Nearly everyone in attendance stood, raining cheers on Garnett, who stood near the bench, watching the screen above like everyone else, smiling.
More memories: Garnett pounding the ball against his head at the free throw line; a buzzer-beater against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden; knuckle pushups; running out of the tunnel; clapping talcum powder in his hands at the scorer’s table before heading to midcourt for tipoff; the 2008 Finals; Garnett diving to the floor after a championship was won; him screaming to the heavens, “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE!”
Then a clip of Garnett roaring at the fans that used to be a pregame staple. Then, finally, a still photo, Garnett pointing up toward the Jumbotron at the end of a blowout, during “Gino Time,” which he loved so much, laughing and dancing every time during his six years in Boston.
That image held as the Bee Gees’ “You Should Be Dancing,” the song that accompanied “Gino Time,” began to play, though it was hard to hear it over the crowd, everyone standing, roaring.
After the Nets’ 85-79 win, Garnett said he wished Gino was in the video. When told about the final photo, Garnett said, “You know what, I looked up and then I had to compose myself before I looked back up — that’s why I was kind of putting my head down, threw my towel on.”
Facing a thunderous standing ovation, Garnett, with a towel over his head, smiled, saluted the fans in all directions, many wearing No. 5 Celtics jerseys, and he blew them a kiss.
The camera panned to two blank spots on a banner in the rafters that lists retired numbers, a clue that Garnett’s No. 5 will hang up there one day.
A few minutes later, when the first quarter ended, the Jumbotron flashed another number, all in green: 34.
The song “I’m Coming Home” began to play.
“I’m coming home/I’m coming home/Tell the world that I’m coming home,” were the lyrics.
Then, the memories, first in slow motion, in black and white: Pierce with his Celtics teammates, standing next to Antoine Walker, running out after being introduced in the starting lineup, saluting the fans, high-fiving some, then taking a bow at the free throw line.
More memories, in regular time, in color: Pierce being selected 10th overall by the Celtics in the 1998 draft and putting on a Celtics hat after shaking NBA commissioner David Stern’s hand; of dunks and jumpers from his earliest days; a clip from “A Few Good Men” with Tom Cruise shouting, “I want the truth,” and Jack Nicholson replying, “You can’t handle the truth”; hugging teammates in celebration after the Celtics came back from 21 points down in the fourth quarter to beat the Nets in 2002.
Still more memories: Pierce facing Indiana’s Al Harrington with the shot clock winding down during a 2003 playoff game, telling Harrington that he was going to hit a 3-pointer in his face from a specific spot, then doing exactly that; numerous other clutch shots, so many to name, but several in Madison Square Garden, where Pierce tortured the Knicks and their fans for years.
Even more memories, so many to choose from during his 15 years in Boston: Pierce returning to the court in Game 1 of the 2008 Finals after having been carried off in pain minutes earlier; numerous big shots against the Lakers to carry the Celtics; hoisting the Finals MVP trophy while being showered with confetti; the parade, a victory cigar between his lips, a la Red Auerbach.
The words “Thank you, Paul!” flashed on the screen, and the camera panned to Pierce, who had been standing and watching, smiling. He looked so overwhelmed, but he didn’t cry, even as tears streamed down the faces of so many fans, so many in No. 34 Celtics jerseys.
The cameras caught a woman sobbing while holding his jersey. Pierce saw it. Then, he nearly lost it.
“I was probably about five seconds from shedding [tears], five seconds I’ll admit to it,” he said later.
Garnett pumped his fist and clapped furiously for Pierce. And Pierce pointed toward the fans, then turned and addressed them on all sides, mouthing the words “thank you” over and over.
He took a bow. He took another. The camera panned back to the two blank spots on a banner with retired jersey numbers, then over to the 2008 championship banner that Pierce and Garnett helped bring the Celtics, their first in 22 years.
Pierce’s standing ovation lasted minutes, but it felt like forever.
“I love you guys, I love you guys, thank you, thank you,” Pierce mouthed as he tried to fight back tears while the fans kept standing, kept cheering louder, and applauding longer.
The second quarter resumed, and another chant quickly broke out — “Thank you, Paul Pierce,” the fans chanted, over and over, everyone still standing, still roaring.
He’s a keeper
Coach Brad Stevens said the team would likely sign guard Chris Johnson to another 10-day contract. Johnson, who had played with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers in the Development League, signed his first 10-day contract Jan. 17, so the team faced a midnight decision Sunday of whether to re-sign him to another. After scoring 12 points against the Nets, Johnson is averaging 10 points in four games . . . Jerryd Bayless (sprained left big toe) and Avery Bradley (sprained right ankle) missed the game. Stevens said Bayless is closer to returning than Bradley, but he wasn’t sure if either would play Tuesday when the Celtics face the Knicks in New York.