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.
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