When the Brooklyn Nets signed aging ex-Celtics stars Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, pessimistic New York media types said “they were washed up.” Some went as far as to label Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov a gimmick artist rather than a serious owner. Others said the duo was “looking for a payday and a place to get fat and retire.” Celtics haters said they would never be fully embraced by New York. Ultimate competitors such as Pierce and Garnett didn’t see it that way. A Brooklyn team fighting for ownership of an up-for-grabs basketball town, needed respectable assets with championship experience to aid the new, raw coach with 0 years of coaching experience. Guys who didn’t just dream about “that moment” but lived it too many times to mention.
Shame on any basketball head who underestimated the effect Pierce and Garnett would have on this Nets team. How can you not play hard for a guy like Pierce who tells you with a straight face that he expects to win and you can win? A cat like KG puts the kind of batteries in backs that makes a bench scrub feel like he can steal Michelle Obama from Barack if his will is strong enough.
The impact of this tandem would not have been as effective if one came without the other. From the moment KG arrived in Beantown and Pierce finally had that adjacent superstar to ball out with, these cats were forever partnered in the annals of prolific NBA 1-2 punches. Those classic throwback battles with the Lakers, and finally breaking through again, against Kobe in 2008. The dedication to defense and the unwillingness to let another teammate slack. This is what great players do.
Sure, Pierce and Garnett have some tread on those wheels. If they were carjackers you'd say they heisted enough whips to fill the Dupont Registry. KG is a pioneer and revolutionary 7-footer, who Minnesota nabbed out of high school with the 5th pick in the 1995 NBA Draft. KG immediately took the NBA by storm and put in 12 hardcore years carrying the obscure T-Wolves franchise on his back before getting Leprechaun lucky with the kilts.
Pierce suffered through the dismal Rick Pitino years, which included perennial losing and nearly getting gutted in a Boston nightclub. His perseverance paid off and eventually he didn’t have to carry the burden of greatness alone. However, no matter who joined the Celtics, it was always clear Pauly Pressure was the homegrown, No.1 guy.
The Nets have a dope mix of talent, youth and veteran savvy. Deron Williams has given up the tranquilizers that have slowed his game. He says he's switching to uppers because it's playoff time. He's been gunning so far, but he still has another gear he needs to kick into.
Joe Johnson has been rather consistent of late. Johnson has this rep of being plush in big games, so let’s see if he can keep playing at max-money levels throughout this first-round playoff series, which the Raptors tied at 1-1 with a gutsy 100-95 win over Brooklyn in Game 2 on Tuesday. Most Nets fans I spoke to were acting shocked that their team lost. Brooklyn fans are feeling themselves these days and why not?
Livingston hit a big bucket in the fourth quarter of Game 1 that put Brooklyn ahead by a point and stunted Toronto's momentum. Then he struck again to extend the lead by three, until Paul Pierce took over by scoring nine of his 15 points in the final quarter lifting lower-seeded BK to a 94-87 win.
“You just get that feeling, you’ve been in those situations a number of times,” said Pierce, who was 4-for-5 shooting in the fourth quarter of his 137th career postseason game. “I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarter, down the stretch or in playoff settings. I’ve been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine. I just try to stay calm and bring my calmness to the game.”
The championship experience and Hall of Fame pedigree that Pierce and Garnett bring to the game is unmatched by any team in these playoffs with the exception of Miami’s battle-tested Big Three. Having an unshakeable, late-game killer like Pierce and a tornado in the trenches like KG at a team’s disposal is invaluable. Their contributions this season—from staying positive despite a rocky start to never undermining Kidd’s authority to being the consummate team players and serving as teachers in spots where other players lack experience—are the kind of invaluable additives Nets brass envisioned when they signed the old geezers. They come with a type of class and humility that Allen Iverson, an equally great player, could never grasp.
“I have so much respect for the game of basketball,” said Raptors guard Greivis Vasquez following Game 2. "It means so much to go against Paul Pierce—a Hall of Famer—and at least beat him one game in the playoffs…it’s huge.”
Even on a night when he’s 0-for-6 with 5:40 left in the game, Kidd reinserts Pierce for the stretch run because Kidd knows you need a seasoned warrior on the battlefield during crunch time, regardless of what type of game he’s having. How often have we seen Pierce have a miserable shooting night only to dagger the opposition late in the game, rendering those earlier misses irrelevant?
With 3:48 left and Nets down 88-83, Pierce double clutches, makes body contact in the lane for his first bucket of the game and then nails a free throw, completing a three-point play to tie the game at 83-83.
KG followed that with a bucket to tie the game again at 85-85. It was a dogfight down the stretch and Toronto kept coming back, led by DeMar DeRozen, who was serving it up like Pierce in his heyday. DeRozen had 30 points and a sick fourth quarter. His bulldog teammate Kyle Lowery also refused to fade into the back ground.
It was Toronto's night, but BK's dynamic duo made them grind hard for that W. Toronto was about to pull away in the fourth, when Garnett banged a couple more free throws, then Pierce split two defenders after the cross over and gets the And-1 to cut lead the Raptors edge to 92-90 with 59.7 seconds left.
As time ran out on the Nets, Pierce missed a clean look from left side of floor that went in and out and then he took another that just missed with about 12 seconds left in the game, and that was basically it for BK. Pierce didn’t make those shots, but what a luxury already knowing who’s going to take the pressure cookers in Game 3 when the Nets host the Raptors at what’s sure to be an off-the-chain Barclays crowd. If these games keep coming down to Pierce and KG in big spots, how can you not ride with Brooklyn?