BOSTON — Doc Rivers paused for about 10 seconds as he tried to collect his thoughts, his emotions still getting the best of him as he tried to explain how much his return to the site of his biggest moments as an NBA coach affected him.
His eyes turned red as they welled up with tears, leaving Rivers still overwhelmed after his Clippers beat the Boston Celtics, 96-88, Wednesday night at TD Garden.
Rivers coached the Celtics for nine seasons, winning a championship in 2008, and now he was back in Boston for the first time since he moved to Los Angeles in June to become coach of the Clippers.
BOX SCORE: Clippers 96, Boston 88
"I'm still emotional," Rivers acknowledged. "I thought the fans were…It was just a really nice day. It's just a classy place, here."
The night began when Rivers walked through the tunnel toward his bench. He shook hands with the fans in the stands, his every step measured until he walked onto the court. When he was introduced as the Clippers' coach, Rivers was given a loud ovation.
"I'm not used to walking out on that side and all those guys, the people they lined up," Rivers said. "I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game."
After the first quarter, the Celtics showed a video montage of Rivers during his time with Boston. Rivers looked at the giant video screen while getting a standing ovation from the fans.
The video ended with "Thank you Doc!" Rivers waved to the crowd as the video showed the Celtics' 2008 title banner.
All of Rivers' players looked up at the video, and then they gave Rivers the victory.
Chris Paul had 22 points, nine assists and seven rebounds to do his part. Blake Griffin, who rolled his left ankle, scored 18 points and Jamal Crawford had 21 points off the bench.
In a close game, it was Crawford who finally gave the Clippers the separation they needed to get past the Celtics.
Crawford made a high-arching three-pointer for an 88-83 Clippers lead with 2:34 left and then rattled in another three-pointer from the corner for a 91-83 lead with 2:10 left.
It meant that Rivers would walk away with a victory over his former team.
Rivers left Boston rather than be a part of a rebuilding project and joined the Clippers to become their coach and vice president of basketball operations, signing a three-year, $21-million deal. The Clippers had to give up a 2015 first-round draft pick as compensation to get Rivers released from his contract with Boston.
"The best decision I ever made was 10 years ago, when I decided to come," Rivers, who also coached in Orlando from 1999 to 2003, said about taking the Celtics job. "That was the best decision I've ever made."
The Clippers felt good about this decision.
"Man, you could hear it in Doc's voice. You could see it on his face, the passion that he has for the city of Boston and how much he loves the people here," Paul said. "It's one of those things that almost goes unsaid: We wanted to win this game for him."