BOSTON -- Doc Rivers was hopeful, but definitely not certain, that the cheers would largely outnumber the boos.

Now the head coach of the Los Angeles Clippers, Rivers spent the last nine seasons as the head coach of the Boston Celtics. He brought an NBA title in 2008, an NBA Finals appearance in 2010, and an abundance of great memories to Green Teamers.

But the question in Rivers' mind entering his first return as a Clipper to TD Garden on Wednesday night was whether or not the fact that he bolted to L.A. last summer for a more talented roster and a better chance at another title would override his status as a Boston fan favorite.

It's now clear: his status in Boston hasn't suffered one iota.

Rivers not only got a 96-88 victory in his return to Boston, he also received an evening of gratitude from the 17,587 in attendance.

It started with a strong ovation when he walked onto the court during pregame warm-ups, increased when he was introduced after the Clippers starting lineup, and climaxed when a video tribute was displayed on the jumbotron after the first quarter, with the final slide showing the words "Thank you Doc."

"I'm still emotional. I thought the fans were..," said Rivers, followed by a lengthy teary-eyed pause. "It was just a really nice day. This is, it's just such a classy place. It was really nice when I walked out, and you know, I'm not used to walking out on that side, and all those people lined up. I was basically useless for the first 18 minutes of the game.

"It didn't surprise me. You've got to live here to understand that's just the way they are. It's an amazing fan base. It really is. And I just want everything to go well for them."

Rivers said earlier in the day that he had wished the circumstances surrounding his exit from Boston would have been different. He reiterated that his intention was not to turn his back on a rebuilding Boston team for a better situation by being traded to the Clippers.

He hugged all of his former players after the game, including injured point guard Rajon Rondo, and thanked the Boston media on numerous occasions during his press conference.

"It's just a special, different place, and people were born here and raised here, and they cheer for their teams, and they love their athletes," said Rivers of Boston. "And it's just a great place to be. The best decision I ever made was 10 years ago, when I decided to come."

Those supposed rebuilding Celtics, now 10-14, came into the game in first place in the Atlantic Division. The C's did their best to show Rivers what he was missing out on.

Forward Jeff Green poured in 29 points, while forward Brandon Bass had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Guard Jordan Crawford continued his coming-of-age under first-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens with 20 points, nine assists and just three turnovers.

Boston led 45-39 at the half, and trailed just 85-83 after a Jared Sullinger (10 points, nine rebounds) layup with 2:56 remaining. But back-to-back deep threes by Jamal Crawford (21 points) put the Clippers up eight with two minutes left.

"It was hard. You know, every time they were taking the ball out, one of their guys, Jeff and everyone talking to you, and you're trying to keep your focus," said Rivers, whose first-place team improved to 15-8. "It's funny, I told my coaches I needed halftime far more than the players. And I think they sensed that. You could see at halftime CP (Chris Paul), he was like, 'we got it, we got it.'"

Stevens stood and applauded Rivers during his video tribute. But he tried to keep his distance from the emotional aspect of the game.

"I honestly couldn't (feel the emotion)," said Stevens. "I'd be making it up if I said I could. I thought we played really well in the first half. I didn't think we played well at all in the second half, and without watching the film it's hard for me to say.

"I respect a good coach and I'm appreciative to the opportunity that I have, and I'm appreciative of the time that (Rivers) spent here. I don't know (Rivers) very well, but I admire what he's accomplished and everyone else was up (during the tribute), and I should have been too."

Said Sullinger, "It was just a basketball game. No emotional attachment, not like my girlfriend was playing on the other side."

The second half served as a good indicator as to why Rivers likes the situation in L.A.

The Clippers shot 48.7-percent to the Celtics 40.5-percent and only had four turnovers to the Celtics' eight. The all-star Paul finished with 22 points and nine assists to lead the way.

Led by Jamal Crawford and Darren Collison's 10 points, the Clippers bench outscored Boston's reserves 34-4.

At least on this night, the Clippers were too talented and too deep for Boston.

And they had added motivation.

"We knew how important it was for Doc and what it meant for him to get the win," said forward Antawn Jamison. "You know, it was definitely something we wanted to do."

Follow Matt Langone on Twitter and Tout @MattLangone