BOSTON (CBS) -- The TD Garden announced Monday that it has been given the all clear to welcome near capacity crowds back at the end of the month. That will be music -- or rather, loud cheers and screams -- to the ears of Bruins and Celtics players as they get set for some playoff action in Boston.
The two teams started the season playing in an empty stadium, with attendance jumping up to 12 percent late in their respective campaigns. That robbed the TD Garden of the home floor or home ice atmosphere that greatly benefits both teams, and should provide a massive boost now that the most important time on the calendar has arrived.
Celtics center Tristan Thompson spoke of getting fans back in the stands on Monday, as he and the C's prepare for another road contest in Game 2 of their first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics will return to TD Garden for Game 3 of the series on Friday night, just one day before COVID restrictions are lifted in Massachusetts. Game 4 is scheduled for Sunday, and could be the first time that the Garden is packed with fans. (The Bruins are awaiting their second-round opponent at the moment, so no schedule has been announced for their next series.)
Thompson got to experience Brooklyn fans in nearly full force in Saturday night's Game 1 loss, with just over 14,000 fans -- or 81 percent capacity of the Barclays Center -- on hand for the first game of the series. He can't wait to play in front of the famous Boston crowd for the first time as a member of the Celtics in the near future.
"It finally feels like a basketball game. I'm not going to lie to you guys -- thank God I didn't play in the bubble because I can't play without fans, so that setup was terrible. It was fun being in the Barclays with all the fans in the arena, especially during the playoffs. I hope Governor [Charlie Baker] sees how important having 75 percent of an arena can help. It gives us life. That's what makes TD Garden so special, fans are so close and they have that energy that can kind of ignite our team.
"If our Governor is listening, and he's got TNT and ESPN so he should be watching, it's good to have fans in the arena," he added.
For years, Thompson battled against the Celtics and Boston fans as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. He remembers how much the crowd gets into it so you can understand why he was essentially begging Governor Baker to get as many fans inside the Garden as soon as possible.
"I remember battling against them and I loved playing the Garden because of how the fans are. It was a big reason I wanted to be part of this team," he said of signing with the Celtics last offseason. "We just need some [expletive] fans in the arena. That's what I came here for."
Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said it was strange not having to wear a mask, as NBA head coaches have been given the green light to lose them during games. He said that it was refreshing to fans packing the seats behind him Saturday night, but fans wearing masks are a good reminder that we're not quite back to normal yet.
"Anything unique in sports is nothing compared to the real-world adversity that people who have dealt with COVID or lost loved ones from COVID has felt, so I don't want to make it feel like that," said Stevens. "But it is nice to see fans and be back in that environment."
The Celtics trail the Nets 1-0 with Game 2 set for Tuesday night in Brooklyn.
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