The personalities of the two most recent Celtics head coaches couldn't be more different, and tonight was the perfect case study to show it. In one corner, you had Doc Rivers - moved to the point of tears making his return to Boston after a nine-year tenure - and in the other, Brad Stevens, who couldn't be bothered with any of that "emotion" nonsense. He was here to coach.
Granted, tonight was a special occasion for Rivers. After leaving in June to coach the L.A. Clippers, the former Celtic still misses his role in Boston, and he still has a lot of close friends in the organization that brought him 416 wins and a championship ring. When asked to sum up his feelings tonight, having just beaten his former team at the TD Garden despite being a sentimental basket case, he struggled at first to formulate words.
Eventually, he found them.
"It's just such a classy place here," Rivers said. "It was really nice when I walked out - and I'm not used to walking out on that side - and all those people lined up and [cheered]. It was just nice, but it didn't surprise me. That's just the way they are. You've got to live here to understand it. This is just an amazing fanbase. It really is. I just want everything to go well for them."
Stevens was one of the 18,000-plus in the building applauding the former Celtics coach. Like anyone else, he admires Rivers as a coaching legend, and he'd been looking forward to this reunion game for a while. That doesn't mean he's shedding any tears over it.
"I've been asked about this a lot this week - about my emotions, or my thoughts going into this game," Stevens said. "I respect a good coach. I'm appreciative of the opportunity that I have, I'm appreciative of what he's done here, I'm appreciative of the good times he had, and I'm appreciative of the tough times he had that built toward those good times. I don't know him very well, but I obviously admire what he's accomplished. Everyone else was up, and I should have been up too."
Tonight was a passing of the torch. Rivers' Clippers beat Stevens' Celtics, as fittingly they should. For the time being, they're the better team, and they have every right to put these ragtag C's in their place with their superstar pedigree and savvy coaching staff. But in putting up a hard fight, eventually falling short 96-88, the Celtics showed that they're ready to usher in the next generation in Boston.
Stevens is ready to be a coach. And the Celtics - led by offensive star Jeff Green and defensive ball-hawker Avery Bradley - have the start of a solid roster despite all the big names who moved on this summer. Rivers knows the talent that still exists in Boston. He worked with a lot of it last season.
"Those guys can play," Rivers said. "I've had them. You look at that team - Jeff's playing great, and Avery's just a bulldog. They have some pretty good players on that team."
Eventually, we'll move on from this. We'll forget about the video tributes and emotional press conferences, and we'll focus on basketball. We'll accept that Rivers is now a Clipper and the next generation is running the show in Boston. We'll embrace the Brad Stevens era once and for all.
And if you ask Rivers, the Celtics will do just fine with their new coach.
"Just do what he does," Rivers advised Stevens. "He's coached as long as me, just not in the NBA. He's going to be terrific. He's going to be a terrific NBA coach. I think he's already doing it. He's just solid, does his job every night and goes home. He's going to be a terrific coach, and he's going to be here a long time."
Maybe someday, we'll be watching tributes and pressers for Brad Stevens' homecoming. But between now and then, we've got a whole era of basketball to witness.