Wednesday, November 17, 2010
Delonte West worth wait for Celtics
By Peter May ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- He could have had the date circled, underlined and capitalized. That is, if Delonte West didn't know, intuitively and instinctively, that the 11th game of the Boston Celtics' 2010-11 season fell on Nov. 17.
The venue? Who cared. The opponent? Ditto. His team was 10 games into a season that he could watch only from afar, not even from the bench during games. That's what happens when you mess up off the court and David Stern steps into your life as judge and jury.
If there was anyone at TD Garden on Wednesday night who cared a whit about West's transgressions, he or she was hard to see. West was welcomed back with a warm ovation when he entered the game late in the first quarter -- and then got a quick reminder of what it's all about.
Delonte West had 12 points in 21-plus minutes in his season debut Wednesday.
"The fans, they showed me some love,'' West said. "It almost brought a tear to my eye. Then Nick Young scored about four straight baskets on me and the tear dried up pretty fast."
Getting West back into the rotation as a productive member of the second unit has been on Doc Rivers' to-do list since the Celtics signed the guard on Sept. 1. West had been a starter for most of the past two seasons in Cleveland, but here, in his second go-round with the Celtics, the plan was to make him a valuable reserve, able to play either guard position.
It was a role West embraced, in part because there weren't a lot of teams knocking on his door this summer. He had been arrested after he was stopped on a motorcycle and found to be carrying two loaded handguns and a loaded shotgun in a guitar case. (Come to think of it, why didn't one of the Texas teams try to sign him?) The charges resulted in a guilty plea to weapons charges and the aforementioned 10-game suspension. Cleveland unloaded him. Minnesota released him -- Minnesota!
West thinks both moves were made because of his behavior, not because of his basketball abilities. He can't see it any other way -- and for a nanosecond he wondered if everyone else might feel the same way.
"For a minute in the summertime, I thought I'd never be on an NBA court again,'' he said. "But they [the Celtics] know what I'm about. They understand the difference between a bad decision and a bad person."
His teammates and coaches had been singing his praises well before Wednesday's debut of 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in 21-plus minutes. The Celtics crushed the Washington Wizards, 114-83, so West got plenty of run.
"I thought he looked real good,'' Kevin Garnett said of West. "We're just happy he was out there. He's going to be big for us, man. We're glad to have him back."
To say that West was going a little stir crazy waiting for Game No. 11 would be understating things. How come there was a three-day break between Game 10 and Game 11, he wondered. He said he hadn't slept in much those three days and was up in the middle of the night, trying to decide on the appropriate, color-coordinated ensemble for the big night. (He went with a brown/black theme.)
He flew his mother, Delphina Addison, up for the game, but maintained he wasn't constantly on the phone seeking maternal advice.
"I'm no mama's boy,'' he said. "I'm not going to call her until I get at least two points in a game. I'm just glad I got this out of the way."
West was visibly rusty in the first half. In most of the second, the Celtics were playing with a huge lead against Washington's scrubs (John Wall did not play). But you got a taste of what he brings to the table on one play in particular, when he swooped in from behind and blocked a shot by the 6-foot-9 Kevin Seraphin. The Celtics led by 29 at the time.
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His first stat of the season was an assist on a Paul Pierce 3-pointer. He knocked down both 3-pointers he attempted, including a "'why the heck not?" pull-up in transition. There was a steal and, um, three turnovers.
It was his first game in TD Garden since he was on the losing end of Game 6 of the Cleveland-Boston series last spring. It was his first game in TD Garden wearing a Celtics uniform since scoring 13 points in a loss to Milwaukee on April 14, 2006.
"I thought after halftime that he got his legs a little bit and he was just terrific,'' Celtics coach Doc Rivers said of West. "Obviously, he gives us offense. But he gives us another tough guard on the floor, and that's good for us."
It's huge. West can back up Rajon Rondo and Ray Allen. He can play with Rondo and Nate Robinson. He is relentless, competitive and knows that after everything that transpired last summer, he is on a very short leash.
"The Lord gave me a second chance,'' he said. "I want to make the best of it."
Or, as former and current teammate Shaquille O'Neal noted, "I think he's just misunderstood at times."
Eleven games down for the Celtics. The rest of a season remains. The Celtics might not have missed West in the past few weeks, but they feel they can sure use him going forward. The feeling is mutual.