Garnett wasn't expected to play long. Celtics coach Doc Rivers said his All-Star forward would only play the first 7 minutes of the first quarter and the first 7 of the third. Rivers said he wouldn't put Garnett back in even if the game was close down the stretch.
"He's frustrated with this, but he understands," Rivers said before the game. "This is clearly not the way he wants to play.
Celtics guard Ray Allen also returned to the starting lineup Friday after missing Boston's win over Miami on Wednesday with a right elbow strain.
Garnett missed 13 consecutive games for the Celtics and had not played since Feb. 19. He is averaging 16.3 points and 8.8 rebounds this season.
Fans greeted Garnett with a loud mix of boos and applause while the Celtics' starting lineup was introduced.
Rivers said he wants to slowly build up Garnett's playing time to get him ready for the playoffs. He said a big hurdle to clear was making sure Garnett couldn't regress in his recovery if he played.
Rivers said another issue was time, in that Boston don't have much left to work Garnett back in before the playoffs. The Celtics have clinched the Atlantic Division and entered Friday's game 4½ games behind Cleveland for the best record in the East.
"We basically sat around and counted all the practice days before playoffs. It's not a lot of them," River said. "And this is a solution."