As Doc Rivers walked out of the TD Garden locker room tunnel and onto the parquet floor for the first time as a visiting coach before Wednesday's game, an overwhelming look of emotion crept over his face.
Fans called out his name and shook his hand. Faint cheers broke out and slowly grew louder. The celebration continued into pregame introductions with a 15-second standing ovation, and in between the first and second quarters, when the Boston Celtics thanked Rivers with a two-minute video tribute on the Garden's big screen. It was an emotional start to a regular-season game, so much so that Rivers had to fight back the tears.
"It's going to be a hard night," Rivers told reporters before the game. "I already told my coaches that it's going to be hard. You don't spend nine years in one place and win a title, and have the emotions you have toward the city and the fans, and be normal when the game starts.
"It's just not going to happen; at least I don't think so. I've already prepared my coaches to be good coaches tonight because it's going to be too tough for me."
Little did Rivers know, it would be a tough night for the Los Angeles Clippers, too.
The Celtics' makeshift crew led for most of the first two and a half quarters, before the Clippers ultimately found their footing in the third and exploited Boston's lack of size and rim protection by dominating the paint (42 points in the paint) and getting to the free-throw line (34 attempts).
With one more emotionally charged run in them, the Celtics cut the Clippers' eight-point lead to two, 83-81, with 3:32 left, but Chris Paul made a clutch 15-foot jumper and Jamal Crawford nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to stymie the Celtics' comeback.
How it happened: Boston rode the crowd's collective emotion to a six-point halftime lead, with two of Rivers' former players, Jeff Green (29 points) and Brandon Bass (17 points), doing most of the damage. The Clippers responded by outscoring the Celtics 27-19 in a dominant third quarter -- their best quarter by far this season -- to take a two-point lead into the fourth, where Crawford and Darren Collison's 19 fourth-quarter points helped maintain L.A.'s single-digit lead.
What it means: Wednesday was a night of firsts for the Clippers. It was the first time Rivers faced his former team since leaving over the summer. It was also the first time newly acquired Stephen Jackson suited up in a Clippers uniform. But, most important of all, it was the first time the Clippers won consecutive road games this season. This may be the roughest patch of their season so far, but as long as the Clippers can tread water and maintain home-court advantage, they will be fine.
Hits: Paul (22 points, seven rebounds, nine assists) and Blake Griffin (18 points, seven rebounds, four assists) kept the Clippers in the first half, scoring 25 of the team's 39 points.
Antawn Jamison made a 3-pointer at the 9:21 mark of the second quarter, giving him 20,000 points for his career. He is one of only 20 players in NBA history to total 20,000 points, 8,000 rebounds and 1,000 assists for their career.
Misses: The Clippers are now 33 of 118 (27.9 percent) on 3-pointers during the trip.
The Celtics' starters outscored the Clippers' starters 84-62.
Stat of the game: +25. That was the combined +/- of Crawford and Collison on Wednesday. The duo has been a defensive liability for most of the season, and Wednesday was arguably their best collaborative performance.
Up next: Rivers and the Clippers move the reunion south to New York to face the healthy and revitalized Brooklyn Nets (7-14) on Thursday. After a day off Friday, L.A. concludes its trip against the Washington Wizards (9-11) on Saturday.