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The Hawks then waived Payton immediately following the trade, and he returned a week later to Boston as a free agent.
Payton started all 77 games he played for Boston and averaged 11.3 points per game and 6.1 assists as the Celtics won the Atlantic Division before losing in the first round to the Indiana Pacers.
Miami lost the first two games in Dallas, and trailed in the final quarter of game 3 before a comeback led by Dwyane Wade culminated with a Jason Williams pass to Payton, who faked his defender and hit the game winning jump-shot to keep Miami from falling 3–0 in the series.
Serving as a backup to Jason Williams, Payton averaged 7.7 points and started 25 of 81 games.In the playoffs, Payton did not start but averaged 24.3 minutes a game after averaging 28.5 minutes during the regular season, often playing during pressure situations in the 4th quarter of games.In game 4 of the semifinals against the New Jersey Nets, Payton hit a critical three pointer with 56 seconds left in the game to clinch the Heat victory.While Payton expressed displeasure with the trade, he ultimately did report to Boston and began the 2004–05 season as the Celtics' starting point guard.On February 24, 2005 Payton was traded to the Atlanta Hawks in a deal that brought former Celtic Antoine Walker back to Boston.