Photo credit: Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images
After the conclusion of the first quarter, Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc Rivers could barely bring himself to look up at the TD Garden JumboTron. Too much emotion. Too many memories. Instead he made notes and talked to players. As his team of the past was given a fitting tribute, his team of the present – which was down by three – was getting his full attention.
A minute or so passed before Rivers finally gave in, the sound of the appreciative crowd getting to their feet and applauding him probably wearing him down. He saw the final few images of his and the Boston Celtics' 2008 triumph, securing the most recent of the 17 banners. When the tribute concluded, he saluted the crowd and possibly wiped away the slightest hint of a tear from the corner of his eye, then turned back to the play he was jotting down on his whiteboard.
After the game when Rivers addressed the Boston media after claiming a 96-88 victory, he had to pause for a few seconds to steady himself. He tried to keep his emotions in check, but his feelings came through loud and clear.
"It was just a really nice day," Rivers said. "This is just such a classy place here. So it was really nice when I walked out and, you know, I'm not used to walking out on that [visitor's] side, and all those guys, the people, they lined up and I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game.''
"It was just nice. It didn't surprise me because -- you've got to live here to understand it -- that's just the way they are. It's an amazing fan base. It really is. And I just want everything to go well for them."
In the end, the celebration of Rivers' return transcended the game. The result almost didn't matter, at least not to Rivers. The majority of the night was spent basking in the appreciation of the Celtics faithful, or catching up with former players to security guards. Almost everyone who was in some way present during his nine-year tenure got a moment to say hello.
Brad Stevens wasn't in Boston during that time, but the emotion of the moment certainly wasn't lost on him. He didn't feel any of it, but he appreciated it.
"I’ve been asked this a lot this week about my emotions or my thoughts coming into the game," Stevens said. "I respect a good coach. I’m appreciative of the opportunity that I have. I’m appreciative of the time that he spent here. I’m appreciative of the good times he had and I’m appreciative of the tough ones he had that built to those good times. I don’t know him very well, but I admire what he’s accomplished and everyone else was up and I should have been up too."
Their situations in Boston couldn't be more different, and yet Stevens seems to admire the fact that Rivers was able to take his time and build a championship team. This is contrary to what many people have said; that fans in Boston want success and they want it now, and that Stevens will have to get things moving quickly or he'll be run out of town within two years.
Stevens clearly thinks that if Rivers can turn things around in the space of a year then so can he. Rivers has proved to him that it's doable. This could be why he was so eager to join in the standing ovation at the end of the first period.
Despite the loss the Celtics are still leading the conference, one game ahead of the Toronto Raptors. So far, his time in Boston has been encouraging. He has six years to turn the C's into champions, but right now he's still taking it day-by-day.
When the time comes, maybe the crowd will rise to it's feet to honor what Stevens achieved while head coach of the Boston Celtics. If it does happen, he'll feel the emotion, but he'll tell us he just appreciated it.