By Jessica Camerato
BOSTON - There was a point during the summer when Delonte West didn't know if he would ever play in the NBA again.
Just four months ago, he was waiting for a ruling from the league after pleading guilty to weapons charges.
On Wednesday night, he was waiting for Doc Rivers call his name to play for the Boston Celtics.
West felt a surge of emotion when he took his first step on to the court since serving a 10-game suspension.
Then he was hit by reality.
"I was anxious," he said after the Celtics victory over the Washington Wizards. "I was wondering how the crowd was going to respond. They showed me a lot of love. I almost had a tear in my eye. Then Nick Young gave me like four buckets in a row and then the tears dried real fast. I remembered I'm back in the NBA."
West has been eagerly waiting for November 17, biding his time by practicing with the team and getting in workouts while they were on the road.
Aside from exhibition games, Wednesday was the first night this regular season West has been allowed at the TD Garden during game time. He was able to do the little things he coveted and missed during his suspension -- listen to coach Doc Rivers' pregame speech, get hyped up in the team huddle, and run out of the tunnel on to the parquet in a Celtics uniform. They all added up to a big moment.
"I just thank the Lord that the ownership here and coaching staff and director of basketball operations Danny Ainge, they know what I'm about," he said. "They knew the difference between a bad decision and a bad person. I'm just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do."
West was greeted by a standing ovation when he checked in for the first time with 3:12 left in the first quarter. His first contribution was fittingly an assist to Paul Pierce, whom he played with for three seasons during his first stint in Boston.
West finished the first half with two points and one assist, a rebound, a steal, and a foul in eight minutes. He admitted initially his timing was off and he wanted to get his feet wet without forcing the game.
"I didn't want to do too much," he said. "Sometimes your not doing too much is not what the team needs you to do."
He responded in the second half by shooting a perfect 4-for-4 from the field (including a pair of 3-pointers) and added another 10 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists in 14 minutes. He finished the game with 12 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
"That was terrific," Rivers said of West's debut. "You know, rusty a little bit on the first stint. I thought after halftime he probably got his legs a little bit and he just played terrific. He gives us obviously he gives us offense but he gives us another tough guard on the floor, and that's good for us."
The players agree. Not only does West offer the Celtics versatility by playing both the point and shooting guard, he is also a reliable asset off the bench when the starters need a breather.
"Delonte looked really good," said Kevin Garnett. "We saw him when we got back from the road trip, and you could tell he'd been doing double days. We get the feedback from his work and we're just happy that he was out there. He's going to be big for us, man. We are glad to have him back."
Shaquille O'Neal, who played with West on the Cleveland Cavaliers, considers him a very smart athlete who can be misunderstood at times. O'Neal knows his tenacity and believes he can provide a spark for the Celtics.
"He's been wanting to play for a long time," said O'Neal. "He's been practicing with us. While on the road he's been working out two, three times a day. He's ready, he's going to be focused."
West was so focused on his return, in fact, that he barely slept for three days.
"Last night I stayed up til 3, 4 o'clock in the morning trying to put a nice ensemble together, laying my clothes out on the floor," he said. "I realized, hey get some sleep."
But West doesn't have to rummage through his closet anymore. The outfit that suits him best is hanging in his locker.
Jessica Camerato is on Twitter at http:twitter.comjcameratonba