Former Celtics coach Rivers returns with Clippers

Doc Rivers made his way down the hallway that goes past the

locker rooms at the TD Garden, stopping every few feet to shake

hands or give a hug to another old friend.

He had just gotten to the concourse where a gaggle of about 40

reporters was waiting for him when a fan yelled out, ”Love you,

Doc!”

The coach who led the Celtics to the 2008 NBA championship

returned to Boston on Wednesday night for the first time since

taking over the Los Angeles Clippers, and the fans welcomed him

back without any bitterness over his departure. Rivers received a

spontaneous cheer when he walked out onto the court during

warm-ups, a bigger one when he was introduced before the opening

tip and another after a video between the first two periods.

”Coming to this building from the other side is surreal,”

Rivers told reporters before the game, listing a few of the people

he was happy to see again. ”For nine years, they were my family.

… It’s going to be emotional in that building.”

Rivers took over a team that was on its way to the bottom,

losing a franchise-record 18 games in a row in his third season

while trying to position itself for the lottery. But that summer,

despite drawing the No. 5 pick in the draft, general manager Danny

Ainge acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen, teaming them with Paul

Pierce in a New Big Three that won the NBA title in their first

year together.

The Celtics returned to the NBA Finals two years later, but then

Allen left for Miami and with Pierce and Garnett getting older

Ainge decided it was time to start over. Rivers was traded to the

Clippers for a 2015 first-round draft choice, and the two remaining

stars were sent to the Brooklyn Nets for a package of players and

picks.

”It would have been real hard to go through the whole re-build

thing again,” Rivers said. ”I was thinking at the time it was

time to go. It was just time.”

If there were any hard feelings, they weren’t visible at

Wednesday night’s game, which the Clippers won 96-88.

”I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game,

I thought,” an emotional Rivers said after the game. ”It was

nice. It didn’t surprise me. You’ve got to live here to understand

that. (It is) an amazing fan base, it really is. And I just want

everything to go well for them.”

Rivers waved to acknowledge the cheering fans during warm-ups,

and walked toward the Celtics bench to greet a few familiar faces

at the scoring table. Between the first and second periods, a video

was shown on the scoreboard that showed clips of him facing Ainge

as players, posing with Red Auerbach and getting drenched with

orange Gatorade after winning the 2008 championship.

It ended with the words, ”Thank you, Doc!”

Many of the Clippers applauded, as did the Celtics assistant

coaches and training staff and the few players, including Jeff

Green, who played for Rivers.

”I’m an emotional guy,” Rivers said beforehand. ”I just hope

I can coach tonight.”

The game wraps up a reunion week of sorts for both Rivers and

the Celtics. On Tuesday night, the Celtics played the Nets in

Brooklyn and faced Pierce and Garnett for the first time; Rivers’

Clippers face the Nets on Thursday night.

Asked which was harder, Rivers said, ”Oh, it’s harder coming

back here.”

”Playing against them, I see two guys that I love in a Brooklyn

uniform,” he said. ”Coming back here, that’s special to me. I get

to walk under a banner that I helped get and see the fans and a lot

of my friends. This day and half has been a lot of fun, but it’s

also been emotional, too.”