BOSTON — Doc Rivers was hopeful, but definitely not certain, that the cheers would largely outnumber the boos.
Now the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Rivers spent the last nine seasons as the head coach of the Boston Celtics. He brought an NBA title in 2008, an NBA Finals appearance in 2010, and an abundance of great memories to Green Teamers.
But the question in Rivers' mind entering his first return as a Clipper to TD Garden on Wednesday night was whether or not the fact that he bolted to L.A. last summer for a more talented roster and a better chance at another title would override his status as a Boston fan favorite.
It's now clear — his status in Boston hasn't suffered one iota.
Rivers not only got a 96-88 victory in his return to Boston, he also received an evening of gratitude from the 17,587 in attendance.
It started with a strong ovation when he walked onto the court during pregame warm-ups, increased when he was introduced after the Clippers starting lineup, and climaxed when a video tribute was displayed on the jumbotron after the first quarter, with the final slide showing the words “Thank you Doc.”
“I'm still emotional. I thought the fans were ... ,” said Rivers, followed by a lengthy teary-eyed pause. “It was just a really nice day. This is, it's just such a classy place. It was really nice when I walked out, and you know, I'm not used to walking out on that side, and all those people lined up. I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game.
“It didn't surprise me. You've got to live here to understand 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.”
Rivers said earlier in the day he had wished the circumstances surrounding his exit from Boston would have been different. He reiterated his intention was not to turn his back on a rebuilding Boston team for a better situation by being traded to the Clippers.
He hugged all of his former players after the game, including injured point guard Rajon Rondo, and thanked the Boston media on numerous occasions during his press conference.
“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,” said Rivers of Boston. “And it's just a great place to be. The best decision I ever made was 10 years ago, when I decided to come.”
“It was hard. You know, every time they were taking the ball out, one of their guys, and you're trying to keep your focus,” said Rivers. “It's funny, I told my coaches I needed halftime far more than the players. And I think they sensed that. You could see at halftime CP (Chris Paul), he was like, 'We got it, we got it.' “