Celtics pay tribute to Johnson, honor him with win

Updated: March 1, 2007, 8:08 PM ET
Associated Press

BOSTON -- Even Isiah Thomas paid tribute to Dennis Johnson on Wednesday night, wearing a pin in honor of the late Celtics great whose career highlight came at Thomas' expense.

Brian Babineau/Getty ImagesThe Celtics observe a moment of silence Wednesday night for the passing of Dennis Johnson.

In Boston's first home game since Johnson died of an apparent heart attack last Thursday, the Boston Celtics honored the five-time All-Star during their game against the New York Knicks.

A pregame tribute showed video of Johnson's highlights with the Celtics. The video was accompanied by Green Day's "Good Riddance," but a standing ovation toward the song's end drowned out the music.

The Celtics also passed out pins with Johnson's No. 3 to the first 5,000 fans through the turnstile, had a moment of silence and continued to show clips of his career throughout the game.

Celtics employees all wore the pins, and former Boston center Robert Parish and coach K.C. Jones each attended the game to honor Johnson.

"I was blown away [when I heard the news]," Jones said. "It was hard to deal with. Being the coach and being close to him, that was hard to take."

Thomas, now the Knicks' coach, wore a pin even though his errant pass in the fifth game of the 1987 Eastern Conference finals led to the biggest play of Johnson's career.

Larry Bird stole Thomas' inbounds pass under Boston's basket and fed Johnson, who drove in for the winning layup. Boston won the series in seven games, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA finals.

"He was not only clutch offensively, but defensively also," Parish said. "He got the big rebound, got the big steal, got the big defensive stop. Whatever we needed, D.J. always found a way to get it done."

Johnson, who won two NBA championships with Boston and another with Seattle, died Thursday after collapsing following practice with the Austin Toros, the NBA Development League team coached. He was 52.

A five-time All-Star and one of the most feared defensive guards in NBA history, Johnson spent 14 seasons in the league and retired after the 1989-90 season at the age of 35.

He was hoping his stop in Austin, Texas, would lead to a head coaching job in the NBA.

"I don't know why no one grabbed him," Jones said. "I was here with him when he was an assistant, and I was in awe of how he dealt with the players. He always had a smile, but knew what to say. He knew how to deal with the players."

It was the second time this season the Celtics paid tribute to a franchise legend.

Former coach Red Auerbach died on the eve of the season, and Boston paid tribute to him during the home opener.

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press