POSTED: Jan 26, 2014 8:27 PM ET
BOSTON (AP) — After the highlights were shown on the scoreboard and the two former Celtics acknowledged the latest in a series of standing ovations, the cameras panned up to the rafters, where the franchise has hung more banners than any other NBA team.
First shown was the list of retired numbers, where two blank spots should eventually be filled: with Paul Pierce's No. 34 for certain and probably also the No. 5 that Kevin Garnett wore for his six years in Boston. Then the scoreboard showed the 2008 NBA title banner the two won in their first year together with the Celtics.
Fans erupted in applause for the two former champions, who were traded to the Brooklyn Nets last summer when the Celtics decided it was better to rebuild without them than try for one last run with their aging All-Stars. There was a standing ovation when they came out on the court, another when they were introduced and yet one more
But the biggest cheers of all on Sunday night came when the players were recognized with separate scoreboard tributes: Garnett's during a timeout late in the first quarter and Pierce's in the break between the first two periods. Each time, the sold-out TD Garden was prepared, going silent in anticipation as soon as the video boards went black.
Garnett looked down at first, but eventually his eyes wandered to the video that showed his time in Boston from the press conference heralding the arrival of the New Big Three to his postgame yell after eliminating the Los Angeles Lakers in the 2008 NBA Finals: "Anything is possible!" He waved to the crowd, blew a kiss, thumped his chest and smiled at all of the fuss.
Pierce seemed more emotional, looking up from the bench as his NBA life was replayed on the screen. From the time the Celtics took him 10th overall in the 1998 draft until last summer's trade, the player known as "The Truth" had spent his entire career in Boston. In addition to the on-court highlights, which included him receiving the '08 NBA Finals MVP trophy, Pierce's video had several scenes of him reading to children and working in the community as well as a clip of Jack Nicholson shouting, "You can't handle the truth."
The former Celtics captain waved, raised both hands above his head and clapped and mouthed, "Thank you. I love you." The crowd stood and cheered for the entire time between the first and second quarters, breaking into a chant of "Thank you, Paul Pierce!"
Pierce spent 15 years in Boston, scoring 24,021 points in a Celtics uniform - a total that trails only John Havlicek in the history of the NBA's most-decorated franchise. A 10-time All-Star, Pierce is also in the team's top seven in rebounds, assists, steals, games and minutes played.
Garnett came to Boston along with Ray Allen in 2007 to form a New Big Three that won it all in their first season together. They returned to the NBA Finals two years later, losing to the Lakers.
But Allen left in 2012 and, with his stars aging and a stacked draft class coming out of college this year, general manager Danny Ainge decided it was time to rebuild. He allowed coach Doc Rivers to go to the Clippers and sent Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn for a package heavy with draft picks.
The Celtics surprised early this season, hovering near .500 and at the top of the woeful Atlantic Division before losses in 16 of their last 19 games put them back in position for the draft lottery.