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A pilgrimage to TD Garden, Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

Early on in the Celtics’ 105-87 opening night victory over the Philadelphia 76ers, a jam-packed TD Garden enjoyed perhaps the very loudest cheer of a night filled with excitement.

It wasn’t for the Celtics. It was for something 1,800 miles away.

Halfway across the country in Houston, Texas, Jackie Bradley Jr. hit a baseball very hard. In the eighth inning of a tightly contested second game of the American League Championship Series, Bradley crushed a fastball far over the right field wall for a grand slam, extending the Boston lead to an imposing 8-2. The Sox wouldn’t relinquish that lead.

At TD Garden, word spread through the crowd slowly, a dull murmur spread between cheers for the on-court action. In my section, an older gentleman — no doubt with the assistance of several previously consumed alcoholic beverages — stood up and brandished his phone for the rest of us to see. “JACKIE BRADLEY GRAND SLAM! GRAND SLAM! EIGHT TO TWO! LET’S GO SAWKS!”


Moments later, though, the slam hit the Jumbotron. The celebration was deafening. The crowd went nuts plenty of times throughout the game in the Garden — the Celtics gave them plenty to go nuts for, after all — but arguably, that replay on the Jumbotron reached the highest peak of them all.

These are the moments you miss when you follow a team from a different city. I live near Washington, D.C., inconveniently placed as such that trips up to Boston become something of an ordeal to make at times. It creates an odd sense of separation, following a team so closely from such a distance. I made the trip up this week, though, for a very specific reason.

Tuesday’s game against Philadelphia was, somehow, my first game at TD Garden. Ever.

I’ve seen the Celtics live, of course. It’s just always been at Washington’s Capital One Arena. My very first game was a New Year’s Day tilt between the Big Three-era Celtics and the bizarre Nick Young-JaVale McGee Wizards. I saw a vintage performance from Kevin Garnett, who had 24 points, and a textbook Rajon Rondo triple-double — 18 points, 11 rebounds, 14 assists. My most recent was as a credentialed media member for the final Celtics-Wizards match up last season.

Games at Capital One just feel like an entirely different sport. Washington’s main sports passions are football and — for now — hockey, and despite being reasonably competitive, the Wizards have never been the same kind of draw. The result, then, is a mismatched crowd consisting of about 40% Boston fans, with neither fan base quite able to really make their presence felt in the building.

Nothing compared to Tuesday night at TD Garden, which exceeded every sporting event I’ve ever seen. Opening Night certainly helped, as did a juicy match up with the rival 76ers, but still — that arena was alive.

It wasn’t just TD Garden, either. I spent two days in Boston this week, and packed them with as much as I could. I watched the early innings of Red SoxAstros in a crowded pizza place down the street from the Garden, and after the game, spent time with friends at a bar down the street from my hotel (including CelticsBlog’s own Andrew Doxy). Wednesday, I practically lived at Faneuil Hall, eating far too much food and watching street performers feud with each other. I wrung every last minute out of the city as I could.

The Celtics play the Raptors in Toronto tonight, and I’ll be back to watching the same way I always do — online, while sending far too many tweets. Even as special as this particular season is, that new season excitement will taper a little bit, and we’ll all slow down just a hair; perhaps we all get mad online about a losing streak, or pull our hair out over conference standings. Even TD Garden, I’m sure, will chill out a bit. When you play 82 games in a season, this stuff happens.

I finally made it, though. I got to experience that incredible moment, with the Red Sox up on the Jumbotron and an entire arena completely losing their minds, followed by the Celtics winning their first game in what could be an equally memorable season for another New England team.

I won’t forget my first trip to TD Garden. It certainly won’t be the last.


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