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Evan Turner on the Celtics: 'I definitely miss that experience'

BOSTON -- If Evan Turner was slightly subdued while chatting with reporters before his first visit back to Boston on Saturday night, then he had certainly shifted back to vintage form after his Portland Trail Blazers emerged with a 127-123 overtime triumph over the Boston Celtics at TD Garden.

After watching former teammate Isaiah Thomas score 41 points -- including 21 in the fourth quarter and overtime -- Turner, the primary defender on Thomas for much of the night, was told coach Terry Stotts had commended his defensive efforts despite Thomas' production.

And Turner gleefully ran with the suggestion.

"It felt like I gave up like 15. For real," Turner said. "It's still 41 in the books, but it looked like a 15-pointer, you know what I'm saying?"

While Thomas eclipsed 40 points for the third time since mid-December, Turner took great satisfaction that his struggling Blazers, playing the second night of a back-to-back, found a way to sneak out of Boston with a much-needed win despite going to the extra session.

"I know how tough it is to win here," said Turner, who revived his career during two seasons in Boston then cashed in with a four-year, $70 million contract this summer. "They definitely take great pride in defending home court, so to be able to do that, versus one of the best teams in the East, versus one of the best coaches, is unreal."

Turner received polite applause during lineup introductions Saturday -- though it didn't help that another player's picture was shown while his name was called -- but even Gordon Hayward heard more cheers here. Still, after being booed during a visit to Philadelphia on Friday night, it warmed Turner to hear cheers from one of his former teams.

Turner finished with 12 points on 4-of-9 shooting with four rebounds, four assists, and two blocks. He was plus-11 over 40 minutes of floor time. He embraced the challenge of guarding the shifty Thomas at the start of offensive sets and the Trail Blazers elected to switch screens in hopes of keeping Thomas in front of them.

And, as usual, Turner talked trash to his former teammates throughout the game.

"[Turner] talked here and there, but that's just friendly talk," Thomas said. "I was busting his ass so I was letting him know about that. You know he's always talking. He said yeah, 'I held you to 38.' He said something funny. It wasn't funny then, but he's one of my close friends. It was good to see him out there. I just wish we got the win."

Before Turner's visit, Celtics players smothered Turner with compliments about what he meant during his short time here. Turner volleyed that praise Saturday, commending Thomas and coach Brad Stevens while stressing how much he valued his time here.

"We had a great team," Turner said. "We had a great chemistry amongst our team. I think that's one thing that I really recognized. Not saying we don't [in Portland] but just, in the locker room, laughing feels kind of rare. I definitely appreciated that the most.

"And playing at the Garden was dope. Putting on the jersey was definitely dope. You don't take it for granted. This isn't like a normal franchise. I definitely miss that experience."

Turner arrived in Boston as the team was still overhauling its roster. He helped put the team on the right path, and Thomas' arrival at the trade deadline in February 2015 morphed Boston into a playoff team.

Turner marveled at the way Thomas and the Celtics have taken another step forward this season.

"Isaiah's been killing, man," Turner said. "He's obviously an unbelievable talent and he's always worked on his game. What he's doing right now is unbelievable. I'm super happy for him. I'm super happy for the respect he's getting, all around. I told him, he's the man in Boston besides Tom Brady up the street. Other than that, no, he's a close second. I'm happy for him and he definitely deserves it. That dude really works hard and competes."

And Turner saved some of his biggest praise for Stevens.

"He definitely gave myself and a lot of guys in that locker room, he kind of helped their career and reenergized it," Turner said. "I just always thought he was a great, classy person. He's a sincere individual and I always respected that. He never really thought he was too big. And he does a lot of great things. But I really appreciate the friendship I was able to form with him.

"When you get to know what type of guy he is, he's a really special person, special coach, and it makes a lot of sense why he has so much success throughout his career because he's a different individual. And his mentality and stuff has definitely helped me learn how to be a pro and, like I said, see bigger-picture point of views."

The Celtics signed Turner to a two-year deal when most of the league had written him off after a forgettable stint with the Indiana Pacers, this after being dealt by a 76ers team that had drafted him No. 2 overall. In Boston, he embraced whatever role Stevens asked of him, emerging as a Sixth Man of the Year candidate last season.

So how much of Turner's success can be credited to Stevens?

"I just think he put me in position to be successful," Turner said. "At the end of the day, when it comes down to it, there are like four or five guys in the league that are going to be superstars. The rest of the guys, sometimes you're going to be as good as your coach thinks you are. He definitely helped me out a lot and, like I said, he put me in some positions to be successful. And I think he did that with a lot of my teammates as well. That's a big deal."

Stevens had joked how Turner never bothered to call him after he decided to sign with Portland. Turner said he tried but Stevens was flying to meet with Al Horford at the start of free agency. Deadpanned Turner, "He was on a plane trying to find my replacement. Nobody ever talks about that. He was on a plane working his way to get me out. So I was classy in that sense of calling him."

Truth be told, Stevens seemed genuinely touched while detailing how Turner texted Stevens' 10-year-old son, Brady, after getting his big contract offer from Portland. Turner stressed to Stevens' son how much he had enjoyed Boston and detailed why he was following the big payday out west.

Turner was asked Saturday if he has stayed in contact with Brady since signing in Portland and he again morphed into the playful Turner that was so deeply revered here.

"I texted him when I told him I was coming here, and we talked like once in between then. But now he's like 11, he's getting cool now. So I can't really even [get his attention]," Turner said. "I'm sure he's probably got like eight girlfriends. He's living the life. So I'll see him [after Saturday's game]. When he fills me in, I'll definitely kiss the ring and everything like that."