Celtics fans cheer Kobe during intro before final game in Boston

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Kobe Bryant's visited Massachusetts a great many times over the course of his 20-year career, but we're betting the Los Angeles Lakers legend had never heard a response quite like the one he received from Boston Celtics fans on Wednesday night when his name was announced by TD Garden public address announcer Eddie Palladino. See, this time, there were cheers. Lots of them.

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Granted, we've been hearing Kobe get hero's welcomes at just about every gym he's visited since announcing his plan to retire come the end of this season, but it still seemed kind of remarkable. A Laker — and this Laker — getting cheered in Boston? Well, it's about as tough to imagine as the legendarily intense Bryant being willing to flash a smile and participate in a selfie with a courtside fan before tipoff.

It's about as tough to imagine as the Celtics' braintrust giving Kobe a piece of the Garden's venerable parquet floor as a parting gift.

It's about as tough to imagine as leather-lunged Bostonians chanting the Mamba's name rather than spitting it out of their mouth flanked by expletives.

It's about as tough to imagine, really, as Bryant in a Celtics uniform ... which, as Baxter Holmes reported in a fantastic ESPN.com piece earlier Wednesday, almost happened:

The 6-foot-6 Bryant had wowed the Celtics in his predraft workout, awed them in a sit-down interview that [then-Celtics head coach and executive vice president/director of basketball operations M.L.] Carr said was the best he had ever seen.

[Legendary Celtics coach and executive Red] Auerbach had seen footage. He saw the glowing report compiled by the team's scouting director, Rick Weitzman, who declared, "There was nothing the kid couldn't do." [...]

"I think this kid is going to be a hell of a player," Auerbach told Carr. "But it can go either way. He seems to be solid, but he's a high school kid. You've got to make a choice based on what you need today. But I think he's a hell of a player."

With that, Auerbach took a long draw on his cigar. It was said he smoked six a day -- he favored Hoyo de Monterrey -- and he especially loved lighting up a ceremonial stogie at the end of a blowout win, a tradition that was as much about celebrating as it was about taunting (and infuriating) opponents.

"OK," Auerbach told Carr, "now it's up to you to make a decision." [...]

After consulting with Auerbach, the final decision was Carr's, who understands history, in this case, could "sound like an indictment on me." [...]

Carr recalls the meeting when the Celtics decided not to pick Bryant. "We all looked at each other," Carr says, "and we knew there was a possibility that Kobe could come back and haunt us. We knew that."

Yeah, but they didn't know just how much Bryant would make the Celtics pay over the years for making the (totally defensible) decision to take Kentucky's Antoine Walker with the No. 6 pick in the 1996 draft:

All of which, again, made it so darn hard to believe that Bryant got such a concerted tip of the cap from the Celtics faithful on Wednesday. But then, that was before tipoff. When the ball went up, the sound cascading down from the rafters changed considerably.

Now that I don't find too hard to believe. Shouts to you, TD Garden crowd. Well played, all around.

Bryant earned those post-tip Bostonian boos late in Wednesday's contest, scoring nine of his 15 points in the fourth quarter to help the Lakers hold on to the surprising lead they'd cultivate over their kelly-green-clad hosts during the first three quarters. And after Boston bulled its way back into the fight with an 11-4 run that cut the Laker lead to 104-102 with 1:58 remaining in regulation, Kobe reached back into his long legacy of Celtic-tormenting and pulled out one more dagger to throw into the heart of Boston fans:

The 28-footer splashed through to give the Lakers a five-point lead. And while Kobe has gotten some friendly responses from Boston fans in the past, it still seemed pretty amazing to hear very loud, very clear pro-Kobe chants late in a game the Celtics were losing:

The Lakers wouldn't relinquish that lead, holding on for a 112-104 win to improve to 6-27 on the season. Bryant finished with 15 points on 5-for-18 shooting to go with 11 rebounds and three assists in 33 minutes of playing time. Jordan Clarkson led L.A. with 24 points on 10-for-15 shooting, three assists and two rebounds, while rookie D'Angelo Russell (16 points, six rebounds, three assists) and sophomore Julius Randle (15 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) also shined for Byron Scott's crew.

After the win, many fans stayed to show their respect to one of the Celtics' greatest nemeses, a gesture of appreciation that he returned in kind:

... before he headed down the tunnel and out of Boston, one last time, a winner.

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don't Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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