BOSTON — Through all of their wins in Boston, none were as emotional for Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett as Sunday night’s victory while playing for the Brooklyn Nets.
Cornerstones of the Celtics’ 2008 NBA championship team who were traded last summer to Brooklyn, Pierce and Garnett had no chance to treat playing against their former team like just another game. No one would let them during a homecoming full of ovations and tributes that overshadowed the Nets’ 85-79 win.
“This was the toughest game I ever had to play — tougher than any championship game, any Game 7,” said Pierce, the forward/guard drafted by the Celtics with the 10th overall pick in 1998.
Pierce never played for another team before this season, and he ranks No. 2 all-time in Celtics scoring. He struggled Sunday while going 2-for-10 from the floor, finishing with modest totals of six points and four rebounds.
Garnett also scored six, including a game-clinching layup with 18 seconds left after making one of his three steals. It probably could have been a dunk, but Garnett joked that it took his aging legs too long to get to the other end. Or perhaps the layup was a deliberate statement out of respect for Boston fans who greeted him just as warmly as Pierce even though he played only six seasons with the Celtics.
“The one word that comes to mind is unbelievable. I didn’t expect anything like that for myself. It shows the first class, shows the type of organization this is,” said Garnett, traded to Boston from the Minnesota Timberwolves before the 2007-08 season. “I had lumps in my throat. I tried to keep it under control. I tried to focus as much as I could on the game and not take away from it, but man — this was over the top.”
Pierce and Garnett got enough help from their teammates for Brooklyn to hold off the Celtics and extend the Nets’ winning streak to five games. Forward Andrei Kirilenko scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter, and center Andray Blatche finished with 17 points off the bench for Brooklyn (20-22).
Boston guard Rajon Rondo compiled 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Forward Brandon Bass had 17 points and eight rebounds for the Celtics (15-31).
Bass and Rondo are two of the few remaining teammates from the Garnett-Pierce era. Rondo met Garnett for a quick postgame hug, and Bass said later that Garnett, one of the league’s most notorious talkers, was unusually quiet Sunday night.
“It wouldn’t be a game if KG did not smack-talk, but it was to a minimum. He usually does more,” Bass said.
Boston fans’ allegiance expanded for the night to the Celtics plus Pierce and Garnett. Both players were cheered throughout the game as if they were still wearing green.
Pierce and Garnett were highlighted during the introduction of the starting lineups, and the Celtics honored both with separate video tributes during game breaks in the first half. Garnett’s was first, then Pierce received a standing ovation that lasted the duration of the break between the first two quarters.
Pierce was a 10-time All-Star with the Celtics. He never pushed for a trade out of Boston to a contender even through the lean years before he was joined by Garnett and guard Ray Allen to form Boston’s “Big 3” that won a title in its first year together.
Pierce waved and saluted the fans while trying unsuccessfully to end the applause and get back to the Nets’ huddle.
“When you put so much time and energy into one spot, when you come back, there’s always going to be memories,” Pierce said.
Kirilenko hit a foul shot with 8:42 left in the fourth to give Brooklyn a 68-56 lead before Boston started a series of runs to keep it within reach until the final minute. Celtics center Kris Humphries and forward Chris Johnson scored back-to-back baskets, then Wallace hit a 3-pointer to pull Boston within 68-63.
Boston’s final push came when Rondo hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 left to play, cutting the Nets’ lead to 80-77. After a miss by Brooklyn forward Joe Johnson, Boston had another chance before Garnett swiped the ball from Rondo and took it the length of the floor for an uncontested layup.
“It took me two days to get the layup up. I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it still,” Garnett said.
Chris Johnson and forward Gerald Wallace finished with 12 points apiece for the Celtics.
Boston scored the game’s first eight points and led 17-11 after the first quarter. Blatche scored seven points during a 16-4 Brooklyn run early in the second quarter.
NOTES: The surging Nets won for the 10th time in 11 games. They are up to second place in the Atlantic Division. … Brooklyn returns home to face the Toronto Raptors on Monday. … Boston plays the Knicks in New York on Tuesday.
Rockets spoil Griffin’s return in testy affair
If James Harden needed any extra motivation against the Los Angeles Clippers, he found it in the first half.
Harden scored 34 points, and the Rockets held on for a 100-98 victory over the Clippers in a sometimes testy affair on Sunday at Staples Center.
Point guard Chris Paul, who finished with 23 points, missed a contested shot at the buzzer that would have forced overtime.
“It was very important for us just to go out there and play well,” said Harden, who hit seven of 16 shots from the floor, three of five from 3-point range and 17 of 18 free throws. “The last two games we kind of struggled a little bit, but we got our pop back a little bit today, and it was a good win for us.”
Harden provided much of that pop, particularly in the second quarter after Clippers forward Matt Barnes was whistled for a flagrant-1 foul after pushing Harden to the court at 6:02. Harden scored 15 of his 18 points in the period after that, leading the Rockets to a 58-50 halftime lead.
Did the flagrant foul add more fuel for the Rockets’ All-Star guard and MVP candidate?
“Yeah. Things like that are fun,” said Harden, who had 24 points in the first half. “We have fun, we got boosted off of that.”
The win ended a two-game skid for the Rockets (44-22). Houston forward Trevor Ariza scored 19 points and grabbed nine rebounds, while forward Terrence Jones added 16 points and 12 boards.
“This was a win that we needed, especially on the road,” Ariza said. “Going into the home stretch, these are the types of games we have to win.”
Los Angeles forward Blake Griffin returned after missing 15 games due to surgery on his right elbow. Griffin had 11 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists, but committed five turnovers in 41 minutes.
“I didn’t think I played well,” said Griffin, who managed 4-of-10 shooting. “I was out of rhythm. Way too many turnovers, obviously.”
Barnes scored 19 points and guard J.J. Redick had 15 for the Clippers (42-24), who fell into a tie for the No. 5 spot in the Western Conference standings with the Dallas Mavericks.
Paul lamented a host of turnovers in the defeat, including a critical one involving center DeAndre Jordan.
“I had some bad turnovers,” said Paul, who committed three of the Clippers’ 20 miscues compared to 13 for the Rockets. “On one, I drove it off DeAndre’s foot, the other one I lost towards the end of the half. We have to take better care of the ball. We still had an opportunity to win, but we just didn’t do it.”
The Clippers came back from a 10-point fourth-quarter deficit. Paul scored seven straight points, capping it with a 3-point basket to tie the score at 96 with 3:05 left in the game. Houston got a 3-pointer by Jones, but Barnes countered with a basket to keep Los Angeles within 99-98 with 1:35 left. Los Angeles, though, never scored again.
Griffin got a steal as Ariza attempted a pass to Harden, but Ariza drew a charging foul as Griffin bolted to the bucket with 12 seconds remaining. Griffin remained unhappy about the call after the game.
“If I speak on that, I’ll get fined,” Griffin said.
Harden hit one of two foul shots with 8.9 seconds left, capping the scoring before Paul failed to connect on a jumper in the lane with Ariza defending.
The Rockets outscored Los Angeles 36-20 in the second quarter despite making just 38.5 percent of their shots compared to 44.4 percent for the Clippers. Overall, the Clippers hit 43.9 percent to 37.2 percent for the Rockets. They also held an edge in 3-point shooting, converting 12 of 26 attempts to seven of 30 for Houston. The Rockets, though were 29 of 36 from the foul line to 14 of 24 for Los Angeles.
Jordan finished with 20 rebounds and four blocks.
NOTES: F Blake Griffin’s return benefits PG Chris Paul as much as any Clipper. “Teams have been able to trap (Paul) far more than they can when Blake is on the floor because of (Griffin’s) ability to pass,” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said. “I’m sure CP is the happiest of all to have him back.” … Rivers isn’t sure if injured G Jamal Crawford would return before the playoffs. Crawford has missed six games with a right calf contusion. … Rockets C Dwight Howard sat out his 18th game with a right knee edema. “He’s doing everything he can, he’s trying to get better, but until you’re on the floor, it’s impossible to say,” Rockets coach Kevin McHale said regarding Howard’s return. … Both clubs resume play Tuesday. Houston hosts the Orlando Magic, while Los Angeles plays the Charlotte Hornets at Staples Center.
Spurs’ Ginobili sprains ankle
SAN ANTONIO — Guard Manu Ginobili was helped off the floor late in the third quarter of the San Antonio Spurs’ game against the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday due to a sprained right ankle.
Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points. He was immediately was led to the locker room, and he did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court. He did not return to the game.
In 19 minutes during the Spurs’ 123-97 win over the Timberwolves, Ginobili scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against the Toronto Raptors on Tuesday and leading him to play limited minutes against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Thursday.
NBA notebook: Clippers’ Griffin cleared to return
Los Angeles Clippers power forward Blake Griffin, out the last 15 games with an elbow injury, was cleared to return Sunday against the Houston Rockets.
Griffin had surgery five weeks ago to remove a staph infection in his right elbow.
“He said, ‘I’m ready,'” Clippers coach Doc Rivers said before Sunday’s game. “Yesterday the trainers called me and said, ‘If he can go, he can go. He’s been cleared.'”
Rivers said timing likely will be an adjustment for Griffin.
“Timing is timing,” Rivers said. “You lose it when you don’t play in an NBA game. Sometimes you come back and you play great the first game and then you lose your timing. Sometimes it doesn’t. As far as the way we play, it won’t be hard for him at all.”
In 51 games this season, Griffin is averaging 22.5 points, 7.5 rebounds and 5.1 assists.
–Spurs guard Manu Ginobili had to be helped off the floor late in the third quarter against Minnesota on Sunday. Ginobili went down with 43 seconds left in the quarter and with the Spurs leading the Timberwolves by 30 points.
He was helped off the floor and immediately was led to the locker room. He did not put any weight on his right leg as he was carried off the court.
Up to that point, Ginobili had scored 11 points on 4-of-5 shooting in 19 minutes. He battled a stomach illness last week, forcing him to miss a game against Toronto and play limited minutes against Cleveland on March 12.
–Golden State Warriors coach Steve Kerr sent emails to three fans who were disappointed that he rested several prominent players, including All-Star guards Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in Friday’s loss to the Nuggets in Denver.
“There’s two really good sides to the story,” Kerr said, according to the Associated Press report. “Nobody’s wrong here. … I can’t argue with them.”
Kerr received an email from a family that drove from South Dakota to Denver to see Curry, Thompson and the entertaining Warriors play. But Curry, Thompson, center Andrew Bogut and reserve guard Andre Iguodala did not play so they could be rested, and the Warriors lost 114-103.
“I heard from some fans. I received a few emails, stories about driving in from a long distance off and spending a lot of money on tickets,” Kerr said. “I have great sympathy for those people. I really do. It’s a tricky one. It’s something that I think Adam Silver is trying to address through the scheduling shuffling that he’s talking about.
–The Dallas Mavericks recalled center/forward Dwight Powell from the Texas Legends of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
The 6-foot-11, 240-pound Powell played in one game during his most recent assignment to the D-League and finished with 28 points, five rebounds and two assists to lead the Legends in a 115-89 win over the Austin Spurs on Saturday night.
Powell has appeared in 19 games for the Mavericks this season, averaging 3.5 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.0 minutes per game.
–The Atlanta Hawks signed forward Austin Daye to a 10-day contract Sunday.
Daye appeared in 26 games (four starts) earlier this season with the San Antonio Spurs, averaging 4.0 points and 2.3 rebounds in 10.3 minutes.
In 10 games this season with the Erie BayHawks of the NBA Development League, Daye has averaged 16.0 points, 7.0 rebounds, 2.5 assists and 1.1 blocks in 28.5 minutes.
–The Miami Heat recalled guard Zoran Dragic from the Sioux Falls Skyforce of the NBA Development League on Sunday.
Zoran appeared in four games (one start) and averaged 16.5 points, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.50 steals, helping the Skyforce to a 3-1 record over that span.