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The strong and sensitive Delonte West

11.17.10 at 11:35 pm ET
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Shaquille O’Neal has a lot of faith in Delonte West, who made his long-awaited return to the court Wednesday night in the Celtics’ rout of the Wizards at TD Garden. After all, he played last year with him in Cleveland.

“I learned that you guys think he’s crazy but he’s not,” O’Neal said. “Not at all. I could handle him. We always have conversations about the game. He’s very smart. He’s just misunderstood at times.”

West was a very grateful man Wednesday night. And he wore his emotion on his sleeve. He was eligible to play in an NBA game for the first time since serving a league-mandated 10-game suspension for off-court misconduct involving firearms and a motorcycle in the summer of 2009.

With that behind him – and with the faith and support of his teammates and Celtics management - he entered the game as a sub for Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter. He was nervous as if he were a rookie making his NBA debut.

“It brought a tear to my eye,” West said of the loud ovation he received from the crowd, many on their feet in support.

Then West was brought back to earth by Washington’s Nick Young.

“Then Nick Young hit three shots in my face, and that dried up my tears real quick.”

West had the ideal scenario to return to the court on Wednesday night and he took advantage, scoring 12 points, grabbing five rebounds and handing out four assists to lead the bench in Boston’s 114-83 win over the Washington Wizards at TD Garden.

“Any game is perfect for me,” West said. “I just want to be back helping out. I’m so excited to be back. Thankful to the lord for this second opportunity and I’ll make the best out of it.”

After playing in practice and in the preseason with the team, West was making his official debut back in a Celtics uniform after serving a 10-game NBA-imposed suspension for off-court misconduct. The Celtics gave the once-troubled guard one more chance, signing him shortly after Minnesota waived him in the summer.

“It felt great,” West said. “For a minute there in the summertime I thought I wouldn’t see an NBA court again. I thank the Lord, ownership here, the coaching staff, and Danny Ainge. They know what I am about. I’m just blessed to have this opportunity to do what I love to do. 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 made his debut when he replaced Ray Allen with 3:12 left in the first quarter and Celtics coach Doc Rivers said it was only natural that he showed some initial rust but not for long as West found his rhythm, finding Paul Pierce for an open three on the right wing, a three Pierce drilled to give West his first stat in his first game back – an assist.

“I didn’t want to do too much,” West admitted. “Sometimes not doing too much is what the team needs you to do. The second unit responded well in the second half. The first half, our timing was just off. Marquis [Daniels] missed a few practices, I’m getting back into the mix. We’re just trying to adjust to playing with one another. Biggest thing is we got the victory. Other kinks we’ll work out.”

He played 21 minutes in his first Celtics game since being dealt to Seattle following the 2006-07 season.

“In the first half, I just wanted to get my feet wet,” West said. “I noticed that my timing was off a little bit. Guys that know me, I don’t really force much. I let the game come to me. With that second unit sometimes you got to force the flow. When you’re up 20 or 15, it’s hard to go out and want to be aggressive. You want to maintain the lead and give the starters some rest.”

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