The game had to end that way, right?
It was the perfect set up. The Celtics were going to make a push at the end of regulation, because that’s what they’ve done all season. The Nets were going to repel them, and it was going to Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce pushing back against the run and willing the Nets to victory. The story was too perfect not to be told.
Garnett obliged, with Boston trailing by just three and looking for a tying shot. Rajon Rondo was dribbling outside the 3-point line, trying to get free from Deron Williams as the shot clock ran down. But Rondo’s athleticism still isn’t back (and frankly, it may not be back for a while), and he tried to pass the ball to Brandon Bass as Bass came up to set a screen.
Garnett pounced, poking the ball away and sprinting up the court for a transition dunk that pushed the lead to five. The Celtics scored on the next possession, but the Nets hit their free throws. Ball game.
It was an appropriate culmination to an emotional evening. Pierce and Garnett were visibly moved by their tribute videos, their reception upon entering the arena and their greeting during the introductions. In arguably the funniest moment of the night, Celtics fans were quick enough on the trigger to cheer loudly for Garnett, increase the volume for Pierce, and change on a dime to boo Jason Kidd. Well done, everyone.
The game itself? Awful. Neither team was shooting well, as Brooklyn made just 39 percent of its shots to Boston’s 37 percent. Both teams shot below 23 percent from 3-point range. Both teams shot well below 30 percent from 3-point range. Brandon Bass and Andray Blatche led the teams in scoring, for crying out loud.
But tonight’s game wasn’t about the actual game for Celtics fans, although one has to wonder how much ESPN regretted making the Celtics into the national TV game after the starting lineups. For fans and media not invested in Boston, tonight’s game was a travesty. For the rest of us, it was nostalgic to see the old highlights, cathartic to see the wonderful tributes by the Celtics and a little sad to see how much both the old Celtics have regressed and the new Celtics struggle to score. But all in all, it was a little weirdly wonderful.
We’ll have plenty more for you as the evening progresses, but for now — one more time — enjoy the raison d’etre for tonight’s ceremonies.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.