Doc Rivers still at home in Boston

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BOSTON -- Doc Rivers didn't look up for nearly a minute as the video celebrating his nine years with the Boston Celtics ran on the TD Garden JumboTron that hangs amid the team's 17 championship banners -- the most recent of which he helped hang in the rafters.

Most of the fans in the building had risen to their feet and started clapping before Rivers even gazed skyward. As if trying to prevent the rush of emotion, he just kept coaching during a timeout before the start of the second quarter.

Rivers said some words to his players, jotted down a play on the whiteboard, and then, maybe a bit begrudgingly, he looked up as images of the 2008 title team faded in and out on the screen.

Some two hours later, Rivers settled behind a makeshift podium in the Celtics' media room and the mere mention of the video tribute left him wobbly again.

"I'm still emotional," Rivers said. "I thought the fans were …"

He breathed deep and paused for eight seconds trying to compose himself. Even when he started back up, he was fighting to keep it together.

"It was just a really nice day," Rivers said. "This is just such a classy place here. So it was really nice when I walked out and, you know, I'm not used to walking out on that [visitor's] side, and all those guys, the people, they lined up and I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game.

"It was just nice. It didn't surprise me because -- you've got to live here to understand it -- that's just the way they are. It's an amazing fan base. It really is. And I just want everything to go well for them."

A reporter playfully asked whether it was too late to change his mind about leaving town.

"I tell you, boy, this is such a neat place," Rivers gushed. "I tell people all the time -- people don't get Boston, they really don't. They don't understand. And I think you have to be part of it to get it, I really do. I don't think you can get it from the outside. It's just a special, different place, and people were born here, and raised here, and they cheer for their teams, and they love their athletes. And it's just a great place to be.

"The best decision I ever made was 10 years ago, when I decided to come here. That was the best decision I ever made."

He paused a beat again to collect himself and quipped, "Can we talk about basketball?"

Ahhh, yes: the game. Jamal Crawford provided a bench spark (21 points on 7-of-14 shooting) and made a couple of clutch late-game 3-pointers as Rivers' Clippers pulled away for a 96-88 triumph over his old squad.

But the game seemed secondary, a mere guide through the reunion celebration. Rivers spent 36 hours being reminded about all the things he loved in Boston.

His departure, of course, was messy, and some wondered whether hurt feelings would linger. Some suggested that fans might even boo Rivers for choosing to ditch Boston's rebuilding project in order to chase another title in the L.A. sunshine with a roster loaded with proven talent and uncanny athleticism.

When Rivers was introduced before the game, and again when his video tribute rolled, only a roar of approval could be heard. Boston fans did what they always do: They celebrated a figure who brought one of their beloved teams to the pinnacle of success and showered Rivers with love for his achievements here.

Oh sure, they went right back to booing his Clippers and -- with the exception of the "lottery or bust" crowd -- were hoping a Celtics victory could take a tiny bit of enjoyment out of his visit.

Not that the end result mattered much to Rivers. Sometimes the moment transcends the game. He spent pretty much his entire night catching up with anyone who caught his gaze -- security guards, Celtics staffers, season-ticket holders, reporters -- seemingly anyone whose path he might have crossed during those nine years in Boston.

Rivers joked with his coaches that he needed halftime more than his players, who trailed 45-39 at intermission. He praised Chris Paul for picking up the team -- and his coach, given Rivers' emotional state.

After the final buzzer, Rivers met his replacement, first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens, at center court and shared a brief moment. "Brad's going to be a terrific coach and he's going to be here a long time," Rivers said. Knowing the franchise is in good hands probably makes it a little easier for Rivers to distance himself from Boston.

He admitted before Wednesday's game that it's only human nature to wonder what would have been if he had remained here. Trips back will always make him wonder why he left.

But, he'll remind himself, it was time to move on. Just like, at the end of the night, after shaking a million hands and posing for a million photos, Rivers composed himself one last time and moved on. The Clippers were off to Brooklyn, where he'll get a second dose of Boston nostalgia when his team dances with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and the Nets on Thursday.

"It's harder to come back here," Rivers said. "Playing against them -- it's just two guys that I love in a Brooklyn uniform. Coming back here, that's special for me. I get to walk under a banner that I helped get and see the fans and see a lot of my friends. This day and a half has been a lot of fun, but it's also been very emotional."

The song that accompanied Rivers' tribute video was a country song by Dierks Bentley appropriately titled "Home." And the lyrics reminded Rivers: "It's been a long hard ride / Got a ways to go / But this is still the place / That we all call home."

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