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10 Memorable Moments from Pierce, Garnett’s Return

A look back at Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce’s emotional return to Boston to take on the Celtics for the first time as members of the Nets.

Jessica Camerato

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I’m coming home
I’m coming home
Tell the world I’m coming home

The slow, methodical lyrics blared through the TD Garden as images of Paul Pierce emerged on the Jumbotron above the parquet. Fifteen years of history, infamous moments and a triumphant championship would be captured in a matter of minutes in front of over 18,000 people, including the future Hall of Famer himself.

I’m back where I belong
I never felt so strong
I’m feeling like there’s nothing that I can’t try
And if you’re with me put your hands high

On Sunday, Pierce returned to the place he called home his entire NBA career for the first time since being traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer. Cheers and emotions flooded the building as the former Celtics captain received a hero’s welcome in front of the crowd he energized since being drafted by the organization in 1998.

Accompanying him was Kevin Garnett, his fearless teammate of seven seasons who had been sent to the Nets also as part of the mega deal. Garnett, who at one point seemed to be a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves for life, breathed new life into the Celtics franchise when he was traded to Boston in 2007. Together, they made their first trip back to the arena where they had captured the 2008 world championship and come heartbreakingly close to winning more.

»In Related: Watch Pierce’s video tribute

In a league where cities can be mere pit stops for many players and uniforms are swapped regularly, Pierce’s tenure in Boston is one that will be hard to match in years to come. For Garnett, he immediately embraced a new fan base and made it his own in the second chapter of his career.

The saying goes, basketball is a business. And it is. That’s the reason why Pierce and Garnett are wearing Nets jerseys this season. But for one day, they sent a reminder of how special the game can be when the place you play truly feels like home.

See these 10 memorable quotes from Pierce and Garnett’s return to Boston.

Anticipating the Big Day

Pierce: “I really just tried to focus and get back to the hotel and try to get some rest and [I] couldn’t think about anything but today really, it was even hard for me to sleep. Laying in a downtown hotel in Boston when I’m used to being at my house, getting into the arena, coming in the backside and making a left instead of a right, everything was so different. And it was great, though.”

Garnett: “[This is] by far the hardest day that I’ve had to focus. This is bigger than Minnesota. Even when I went back to Minnesota, Minnesota wasn’t like this.”

Emotions Ran Deep

Pierce: “I was telling Kevin and everybody this was the toughest game I ever had to play—tougher than any championship game or any Game 7. This game was just really hard to focus and concentrate on what was at hand. At the end of the day, we had a game to play but it was so hard to really focus. I saw so many friends, so many people I’ve known for years. … It was hard to really get into my routine. You have a routine when you come and get ready for a game and it never settled in. You thought about the time, the friendships, the relationships, and it was just, you get showered with love the whole game. You look up and see so many Kevin jerseys, my jerseys, posters, and it’s every second you are on the bench and in the game people were calling your name. I’m happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball right now.”

Garnett: “This was over the top. … What comes to mind is unbelievable. I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. Shows the first class, shows the type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you, and 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 them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it, but man this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”

Realizing Their Impact

Pierce: “That’s pretty much what the [tribute] videos showed … You build so much, not only on the court but in the community. I have relationships with organizations in the community that I built, been able to change different lives, being an inspiration in this community and a lot of that you thought about. I’ve seen a lot of the kids I brought to games and that’s what I think matters the most to me, the lives you can change. The basketball is great and understanding you’re a role model and it made me think of being an inspiration in the community here.”

Garnett: “This is not even close [to the atmosphere of a big game]. It’s not even close. The impact of people and how much we’ve impacted their lives, not just kids but grownups, just the culture here. You come here and one of the first things [Celtics VP of Media/Alumni Relations] Jeff Twiss tells you, he takes you through the library where he shows you all the history here and you feel that responsibility. To come back here and be showered like this it’s not even close, not even close.”

A Message to the Fans

Pierce: “It was just a special thing for me, through my bad times, through my immature times, through my growing up, becoming a man for this city and winning a championship. Everybody sticking with me, I would just like to tell them thank you.”

Garnett: “The New Englanders and everyone whose ever supported me here and been nice to me and my family, obviously they didn’t have to be, I just want to say thank you all. I appreciate that from the bottom of my heart.”

Unbreakable Celtics Pride

Pierce: “I think as long as I’m in the league it’s going to be tough because I know I am going to have to come back to the Boston Garden. It is what it is when you put so much time and energy in one spot. When you come back there’s always going to be memories and there’s nothing you’re going to escape. As long as I’m able to come back to the Boston Garden, as long as I’m going to be able to play games, it’s going to be tough.”

Garnett: “We’ve just seen Baby (Glen Davis) a couple weeks ago, the new year we saw Perk (Kendrick Perkins), we got to see Doc (Rivers) and some of the guys who are still around. Even when you see them, those memories, remembering that coach, remembering that hard work, what was invested in and created here throughout the six years I was here. It’s always going to be what it is. I think we’ll always bleed green as long as we’re playing basketball and as long as we’re living. Even when they bury us six feet, this is what it’s going to be.”

Jessica Camerato is a bilingual reporter who has been covering the NBA since 2006. She has also covered MLB, NHL and MLS. A graduate of Quinnipiac University, Jessica is a member of the Professional Basketball Writers Association and the Association for Women in Sports Media.

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NBA Daily: Fixing The Houston Rockets

Matt John continues Basketball Insiders’ “Fixing” series by taking a look at the newly-minted Houston Rockets, a team that now has given itself plenty of options.

Matt John

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In the most well-timed edition of Fixing ever, we’re taking a look at the very recently-revamped Houston Rockets. We all knew that one trade was coming one way or the other and now the time has arrived. For how well-designed this beautiful era of basketball was for the Rockets, it surely didn’t deserve the anti-climactic ending it got. Yet here we are. For the first time since Yao Ming’s retirement, Houston is starting from scratch.

Is all hope lost in H-Town? Well, losing Mike D’Antoni, Daryl Morey and Harden is basically like the Justice League losing Batman, Superman and Wonder Woman in one swift motion. It would be a major setback for anyone. In situations like this, it’s not about what you lost. It’s about how you respond to what you lost. To their credit, Houston had time to prepare for the disintegration of the Harden-D’Antoni-Morey era, and they haven’t taken their departures lying down.

They’ve wiped the slate mostly clean and, even if there’s definitely room for improvement, the new-look Rockets are a little more exciting than what meets the eye.

What’s Working?

It is a shame that Harden never gave this group a chance. Houston had a better offseason than they were given credit for because the high-profile personnel that they lost (or were about to lose) overshadowed what they brought in. Compared to past teams that faced similar circumstances, Houston could have done a lot worse. Let’s start with the best-kept secret that gets more and more exposed by the hour: Christian Wood.

NBA nerds hyped up Wood throughout the offseason for how great he looked during the brief time he was the full-time center in Detroit – averaging nearly 23/10 on 56/40/76 splits. When you take the sample size (13 games) and how Detroit fared in that stretch (they lost all but one game) into account, it’s understandable why it was hard to buy stock in Wood’s potential during the mini off-season.

That’s why Houston got him at the value they did and he’s already one of the league’s better bargains. Those numbers he put up as a Piston have carried on with the Rockets; while his 53/34/66 splits with almost two blocks per game have put him on the map. Wood’s ascension hasn’t led to much team success yet, but he’s the last player to blame for that.

Then there’s Houston’s more well-repped new addition, John Wall. Wall’s probably never going to live up to the $40+ million deal that Houston is paying him, but they didn’t acquire him for that reason. They acquired him in the hopes of him giving them more bang for their buck than Russell Westbrook did. The results have been a mixed bag, but that’s to be expected after what he’s been through. It’s been encouraging to see that on a good day, he still has most of his form.

There are plenty of games left for him to find consistency. We also have to keep in mind that Wall’s just getting his feet wet following two awful injuries. Even if he’s not the same Wall from his prime, this has worked out a lot better for Houston than Westbrook has in Washington. Having the better player as well as an additional first-round pick should be counted as an absolute win for the Rockets.

There are other stand-out players: It looks like the Rockets found another keeper in rookie Jae’Sean Tate who, along with David Nwaba, have infused the Rockets with badly needed energy.

Things were obviously better last year when Harden and co. were content, but the Rockets are far from a disaster.

What’s Not Working?

Well, James Harden. Plain and simple. When a superstar wants out, it wears the team down internally. That elephant is too big for the room to ignore, clear that both sides were done with each other by the end. Houston deserves props for willing to get “uncomfortable” just as they promised, but a superstar wanting out brings down the team’s morale no matter what.

It’s why Houston started 3-6 with the league’s ninth-lowest net rating at minus-1.8. There were other factors at play here with all the shuffling parts, but there’s no need for fluff. Harden’s trade demand loomed too large for it not to affect the Rockets. It’s hard for everyone when the best player on the team isn’t buying in. His teammates were complaining about him publicly.

The upshot is that it’s over now. Losing James Harden the player certainly isn’t addition by subtraction – in Houston’s case, that’s Westbrook – but losing James Harden the distraction could certainly be for this season.

What’s Next?

Now that the dust has settled, the Rockets can finally take a deep breath and sort out both their present and their future. Presently, there’s going to be even more shuffling now than there was before. At the very least, the roster is going to have players who should be on the same page.

Houston may still have some loose ends from its previous era. From the looks of things, PJ Tucker could be the next one to go. Houston’s prospects are on the come up, but a player with Tucker’s abilities should be on a contender. That’s something that the Rockets, as of now, are not. The same goes for Eric Gordon, but it’s tough to see any of the elite teams willing to put up enough salaries to trade for his contract.

Then there’s the newly-acquired Victor Oladipo.

Oladipo has been a good soldier in spite of the trade rumors that have buzzed around him over the last several months. Indiana trading him to Houston signified that he wasn’t re-signing with them. Houston provides a unique opportunity for Oladipo to further re-establish his value as a star. It’s hard to foresee if he’s in their long-term plans or if he’s another asset to move in their rebuild.

With all that said, new head coach Stephen Silas seems to have won over the players. After beating the San Antonio Spurs last night without Harden or Wall, the Rockets, despite not being in the tier of elite teams anymore, should be excited for what the season holds.

As for what the future will bring, their outlook is a lot brighter than it was back in September. Even if they’ll face the repercussions of giving up most of their own first-round picks for Westbrook and Robert Covington last year, they just hauled in a massive load of first-round picks and four pick swaps combined for Westbrook, Covington and Harden since then.

The development of players should put Houston in a good light, which could pay huge dividends for their chances in free agency. We’ve seen teams establish a great team culture while building up a promising future – ahem, the very same Brooklyn Nets that just cashed in for Harden proved that.

The Rockets might be next in line.

The days of Houston being a contender are gone for now. But, thankfully, the days of the Rockets becoming one of the NBA’s premier League Pass favorites may have only begun.

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NBA Daily: Payton Pritchard — Boston’s Bench Band-Aid

Basketball Insiders’ Shane Rhodes breaks down the fortuitous start to Payton Pritchard’s rookie season and what it’s meant to the Boston Celtics.

Shane Rhodes

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For the Boston Celtics, Payton Pritchard has been exactly what the doctor ordered.

Boston sported, arguably, the NBA’s worst bench unit a season ago. Despite a fearsome-foursome of Jaylen Brown, Gordon Hayward, Jayson Tatum and Kemba Walker, their lack of depth hurt them all season long. It stood in direct contrast to their Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the Miami HEAT, and, ultimately, sank the Celtics’ shot at the NBA Finals.

Now, with Hayward gone to the Charlotte Hornets and Walker on the mend, it was only logical to expect that dearth to once again be their Achilles heel. But, on the contrary, the bench has been rejuvenated — or, at the very least, much improved — to start the 2020-21 season.

And, albeit unexpectedly, Boston has the rookie out of Oregon to thank for that.

Pritchard, the 26th pick in the 2020 NBA Draft, faced some serious questions about his game in the lead up to the season. He left the NCAA as the recipient of both the Bob Cousy and Lute Olson awards, given to the nation’s top point guard and non-freshman player, respectively, and served as a leader for the Ducks throughout his four years with the team.

However, in the NBA, a league that’s far bigger, faster and stronger than any competition he’s ever faced, plenty were concerned as to how Pritchard’s game might translate. He’ll never be the most athletic player on the court and, when combined with his 6-foot-2 frame, that raised some serious concerns about his defensive viability at the game’s highest level.

On top of that, Pritchard was far from the only addition the Celtics made this offseason; fellow rookie Aaron Nesmith was thought by some to be the best shooter in the draft, while Jeff Teague and Tristan Thompson are battle-tested veterans that would demand a rotation spot from the jump.

Despite those stacked odds, however, Pritchard immediately took a rotation spot for his own, ahead of the higher drafted Nesmith and alongside the veteran Teague in Boston’s pecking order. In doing so, he’s brought a major spark to a bench that desperately needed one.

Save for a 23 point, 8 assist performance against the Toronto Raptors, he hasn’t jumped out of the boxscore. But Pritchard’s played with a veteran’s confidence and has contributed in nearly every game so far this season.

In fact, he’s played with a tenacity that even some of the more hard-nosed veterans lack, while his knack for the timely play has put Boston in the position to win on almost every possession. Pritchard is a +45 in his 10 games played, good for second among rookies and third among Celtics.

Like on this steal and drawn foul with the clock winding down against the Washington Wizards. Or his tip-in game-winner against the HEAT. Pritchard, at all times, is aware of where he needs to be on the court and, more importantly, when he needs to be there to put the team in the best position to succeed. Likewise, he’s moved with or without the ball and put himself in the position to help his teammates make the easy play as often as possible.

That presence of mind is something you just can’t teach — and Pritchard has it in spades.

Beyond the court, Pritchard has easily endeared himself to his Celtics teammates. Brown referred to him as “the GOAT” after just his fourth game, a win over the Pacers in which Pritchard finished with 10 points, 5 rebounds and 5 assists in just over 27 minutes and was clutch down the stretch. Marcus Smart, known for his tenacious style of play, has said “the sky’s the limit” for Pritchard and has noted many similarities between himself and the rookie as far back as the preseason.

A bit more reserved, head coach Brad Stevens said “[Pritchard]’s had more good nights, for sure, than not,” after the rookie flashed against the Raptors.

Still, it’s clear Stevens, like the others, has quickly taken a liking to Pritchard and, further, has expected a lot of the late-first rounder. Pritchard, on multiple occasions and despite his lack of NBA experience, has served as part of Boston’s closing lineup, an ultimate show of respect from a coach like Stevens that values defensive execution above most else on the court.

“We’re going to ask him to do a lot right now. And, fair or unfair to him, he’s going to have to be consistent for us, for us to have a chance to be a good team.”

And Stevens is right; to be the best version of themselves, Pritchard must continue to improve his own game and help push the bench even further.

Of course, that kind of pressure is nothing new to Pritchard who, over his four seasons with the Ducks, carried the team on his shoulders and constantly stepped up when they needed him most. And, while he’s been lauded with praise, the rookie has continued to stay humble.

“Coming in, I’m just trying to do my part,” Pritchard said after the team’s aforementioned win over the Pacers. “It’s my fourth game, everything’s coming at me fast and I’m still figuring things out.”

“I just want to win and I want to help as much as I can to get a win.”

As the Celtics forge their path ahead and continue to outfit the roster, players that not only contribute right away but can elevate the play of Boston’s star duo, Tatum and Brown, will be the priority.

And, if any of them are as rock-solid as Pritchard has been so far, the Celtics will be well on their way to an NBA title.

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NBA Daily: Nic Batum Fitting in with the Clippers

David Yapkowitz breaks down Nic Batum’s early season and the impact he’s had on the Los Angeles Clippers.

David Yapkowitz

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After the Los Angeles Clippers flamed out in the 2020 NBA playoffs, as they blew a 3-1 series lead to the Denver Nuggets, it was clear that some roster changes needed to be made. They addressed some of those needs, specifically interior defense, rebounding, perimeter shooting and playmaking as they inked free agent Serge Ibaka to a deal and made a trade with the Detroit Pistons for Luke Kennard.

And, in the early season goings, both Ibaka and Kennard have lived up to expectations. But, arguably, the most impactful addition for Los Angeles has been the more low-key signing of Nicolas Batum.

Batum’s signing didn’t garner major headlines, probably because nobody really knew what to expect. He battled injuries his last season with the Charlotte Hornets and suited up in only 22 games — his last game played was Jan. 24, 2020. But, even before last season, he wasn’t nearly as impactful in his years with the Hornets as he had been in his early years with the Portland Trail Blazers.

In the 2020-21 season, however, he’s become an invaluable member of the Clippers rotation, having started all 11 games thus far. He’s healthy and looking like his pre-injury days, reminding people of the versatile player he was and can still be.

“I don’t think it’s fair to judge me off 18 months when I’ve played 15 years as a pro if I count my years in France,” Batum said after a recent Clippers win. “I’ve had a good career. I’m not a Hall of Famer, but I think I’ve had a respectable career.”

“What happened in the last 18 months, it didn’t work out. The first years in Charlotte was great… we made a change in the coach and it didn’t work out, it happens sometimes. But I’m in a great situation right now.”

It’s been his versatility that’s paid dividends for Los Angeles thus far. A wing for most of his career, he’s been the team’s starting power forward and has done a little bit of everything. An additional playmaker in head coach Tyronn Lue’s offense, Batum has helped to keep the ball moving when the Clippers’ stars, Kawhi Leonard and Paul George, are either out of the game or without the ball themselves. Likewise, he’s been a dependable three-point shooter, as he’s hit on 43.5 percent of his shots from deep, and an efficient scorer overall, shooting 50.7 percent from the field.

While his overall numbers this year — 10.3 points per game, 5.6 rebounds and 2.9 assists — are right in line with his career averages, Lue has played Batum to his strengths and he’s looked rejuvenated.

“Nic’s been really good, his passing ability, he’s just very versatile on offense and defense,” Lue said after a recent Clippers win. “He’s very important to what we’re trying to do. He’s just going to get more and more comfortable. He was a great addition for us.”

Batum’s versatility isn’t limited to his offensive contributions, he’s been particularly effective on the defensive end as well. His combination of length, size and strength has enabled him to guard multiple positions. He can stick with guards and wings on the perimeter and he can drop down and body up someone in the paint.

In the Clippers win over the Phoenix Suns on Jan. 3, Batum saw time guarding all three of Chris Paul, Devin Booker and Deandre Ayton. Batum has always been a versatile defensive player, something he recalls from his Portland days when he used to find himself being asked to guard Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd in the same game.

“It reminds me of my first couple of years with the Blazers when I was coached by Nate McMillan. I was kind of used the same way,” Batum said. “I was used that way my first two to three years, now I’m back to that role. I’m not 21 anymore, I’m 32 now so I have more experience, I got more stuff behind me, it’s just better for me.”

Batum has also become trusted by the rest of the team late in games. He’s shown a willingness to take big shots and the consistency to knock them down. He knows his role on the team and has played it to perfection.

When the defense inevitably collapses on Leonard, George and Lou Williams, the Clippers main crunch time options, Batum knows he’s going to be relied on to make some big plays. He’s looked at the way Boris Diaw was used on the San Antonio Spurs, or Andre Iguodala with the Golden State Warriors, and he’s tried his best to fill a similar role with the Clippers.

“Those are the players I try to use to inspire myself this year. I have to be ready. Even if Kawhi [Leonard], PG [Paul George] and Lou [Williams] are great, they can’t rely on themselves 100 percent of the time,” Batum said. “In ten situations, nine are going to be for them but the tenth one, you have to be ready because it might come your way. Just to be on the court with those guys in those situations, you have to be ready.”

And to this point, he’s enjoyed his early days in Los Angeles. He’s loved what he’s seen from the team and loves the chemistry and rapport they have with each other on the court.

“I love it. I wasn’t there last year so I don’t really know what happened and I don’t really care. All that matters for me is this team, this year,” Batum said. “The group is great, chemistry is amazing. We got great leaders… we got guys that just want to be together and love to be with each other.”

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