CLEVELAND -- With one thunderous bump from Shaquille O'Neal, Celtics forward Kevin Garnett spilled to the floor during Tuesday night's season opener in Cleveland.
Not that Garnett enjoys the bumps and bruises that come with crossing paths with O'Neal, but that collision was just another step in his recovery from offseason knee surgery.
Shaq's own little way of saying, "Welcome back, KG."
"That's the Diesel," Garnett said to reporters after the game. "I'm sure if any one of y'all ran up against the Diesel, the same thing would happen."
After missing 25 games last season, Garnett returned to regular-season action with a quiet 13 points, 10 rebounds and 3 blocked shots over 33 minutes.
Not eye-popping numbers, for sure, but combined with the emotional lift of having No. 5 back on the court, it was enough to help the Celtics emerge with a 95-89 win over the Cavaliers, another Eastern Conference superpower.
Garnett admitted after the game he's not where he wants to be physically, but -- don't start fretting about the knee -- it's more about getting in game shape.
"I'm telling you, man, I don't have any hesitation when playing," said Garnett. "Healthwise, I'm very decent, very strong. Visionwise, I'm not where I want to be. Chemistry-wise with some of the guys, I'm not where I want to be. It's a process. It's not a sprint, it's a marathon. That's my mindset. I'm a lot better at being patient."
Garnett admitted that he and the starters might have been a little overhyped. That contributed to an early deficit, but the second-teamers rode to the rescue.
As expected, the hardest part was keeping Garnett's emotions in check.
"Kevin was great," said coach Doc Rivers, "but he was going a little too fast in some of the sets we were running and we were trying to settle him down a little bit. But that was expected."
The defense, particularly Garnett's, seemed inspired in the third quarter, helping Boston stretch out its lead.
Asked about the difference in having Garnett back on the court, Pierce smiled.
"You know what I'm going to say," said the captain. "You're talking about one of the greatest defensive players of all time."
Garnett knows better things are ahead.
"I think, physically, I'm OK," he said. "I would like to be better. Throughout the course of the season, I'm sure I will be.
"I felt good. It felt good to be out there. It didn't feel good to be down so much early, but once we sort of beat the emotional part of the game and just played our game, we were solid."