|01.27.14 at 1:34 am ET|
Sunday night was hard for Paul Pierce, really hard.
He knew it was coming. It’s been on the schedule since last summer. But when the moment finally came, the former Celtics captain said it was the most difficult game to play in for the obvious reasons.
He just could never picture himself playing against Boston and accepting all the love showered upon him all at once.
“I was telling Kevin, and everybody this was the toughest game I ever had to play,” Pierce said after scoring just six points but helping his team to an 85-79 win over his former Celtics. “Tougher than any championship game, or any Game 7. This game was just really hard to focus and concentrate on what was at hand. At the end of the day we had a game to play but it was so hard to really focus.
“I saw so many friends, so many people I’ve known for years. Ugly cornbread Maxwell back there, my man, my main man. It was hard to really get into my routine, you have a routine when you come and get ready for a game and it never settled in and you thought about the time, the friendships, the relationships and it was just, you get showered with love the whole game. You look up and see so many Kevin jerseys, my jerseys, posters and its every second you are on the bench and in the game people were calling your name. I’m happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball right now.”
Pierce acknowledged that he, Garnett and Rajon Rondo got together for dinner Saturday night before the game.
“We didn’t really bump into anybody in the street but we had a chance to go to dinner with Rondo [Saturday] night,” Pierce said. “We talked to him about his situation here and the things we went through when we were in his situation before. It was good to see him and really, that was pretty much the only guy he had a chance to see. Other than that I really just tried to focus and get back to the hotel and try to get some rest and couldn’t think about anything but today really, it was even hard for me to sleep. Laying in a downtown hotel in Boston when I’m used to being at my house. Getting into the arena, coming in the backside, and making a left instead of a right. Everything was so different, and it was great though.”
|01.27.14 at 1:08 am ET|
|01.27.14 at 12:29 am ET|
It takes a lot for Kevin Garnett to be blown away.
The Celtics and their fans achieved that and more on Sunday night with their tribute to KG and Paul Pierce for their six years together in Boston that produced one NBA title, two NBA finals appearances and countless memories as one of the most inspirational leaders in franchise history.
“This was over the top,” Garnett gushed afterward, referring to the 60-second video tribute and the standing ovation from the crowd late in the first quarter. “Doc (Rivers) had [texted] us two days ago [telling us what to expect]. I think I had reporters ask me about the expectations before the Dallas game and I didn’t want to be thinking about things before I had another game to play. What comes to mind is unbelievable, I didn’t expect anything like that for myself, shows the first class, shows the type of organization that this is and the appreciation from this organization for you.
“And I couldn’t put it into words. Paul and I were joking before the game who was gonna tear up and drop a tear. I had lumps in my throat and I kept them under control and I focused as much as I could on the game and not take away from it but man this was over the top. I couldn’t put that into words.”
It was Garnett who stole a Rajon Rondo pass when the Celtics were within a 3-pointer of tying the game. Garnett knew Rondo was trying to set himself up for a three. Garnett, who knows Rondo as well as anyone on the court, stepped into the lane and rumbled the other way and made the layup that sealed the 85-79 win for the Nets against his former team.
“I knew they were trying to run a pick and roll and (Rajon) Rondo was gonna try a three, I knew they needed a three at that point and I just played the passing lane,” Garnett said. “It took me two days to get the layup up I thought I was gonna get caught but I got it still, put the ball in front of me, and I got the layup.
“I’m glad we came here and got a win. A lot of distraction, but they were good distractions. It felt good to be showered and for the city to show their appreciation nevertheless the organization man. You give yourself, people always say players can be too loyal. I don’t believe that, a city like Boston is worth it and tonight’s the epitome of all that.”
For Garnett, he said the totality of the night didn’t hit him until he saw longtime Celtics‘ staffers in trainer Ed Lacerte and public relations director Jeff Twiss.
“It didn’t hit me until I saw Ed Lacerte and Jeff Twiss,” Garnett said. “I got to see all the guys that made our stay worth it; Phil Lynch, Johnny Joe(Connor) all those guys. The guys that people really don’t know but make the whole thing go around. You see, like Paul said, the endless friendships through the place; the security guards, the ball boys everybody man that shows their appreciation. By far the hardest day that I’ve had to focus. This is bigger than Minnesota, even when I went back to Minnesota, Minnesota wasn’t like this.”
And for anyone who thinks this rivals any of the playoff experiences Garnett had, don’t. Garnett said Sunday night was much, much more intense.
“[The playoffs] is not even close [to Sunday],” Garnett said. “It’s not even close. The impact of people and how much we’ve impacted their lives, not just kids but grownups, just the culture here. You come here and one of the first things Jeff Twiss tells you, he takes you through the library where he shows you all the history here and you feel that responsibility. To come back here and be showered like this, it’s not even close, not even close.”
The moment Garnett will always relish, though, came with 2:25 left in the first quarter when the video came up on the big board 50 feet above center court.
“It was just an emotional moment that I just kind of went back and reflected on myself,” Garnett said. “When we all got together a lot of people didn’t think that the first year we could do what we did and I think before everyone started getting together making their teams, stacking their teams, I think we were the first to initiate that. We had a lot of pressure on us. As I sat back and watched the video, I thought a lot about the fun, how much work was invested in that.
“To this day, I talk about how big Doc Rivers was for us just from a growth, not just as a players, but as a human being and a young man perspective, of every man he coached. I don’t know, I’m just appreciative of the time. Throughout the timeline you think about those moments and you reflect, that’s what the fist pump was. I had some great times in here, like Paul (Pierce) said, obviously some dismal times, but none of those overshadow the good. It was a great time here in Boston ‘
|01.26.14 at 9:09 pm ET|
Pierce and Garnett combined for 12 points, seven rebounds and five assists in a 85-79 Brooklyn victory, handing the Celtics (15-31) a 17th loss in their last 20 tries. Meanwhile, the Nets (20-22) moved within 1.5 games of the division-leading Raptors.
Rondo (13 points, 8 assists, 8 rebounds) engineered a Celtics comeback that brought the Celtics within three points in the final minute, but a Garnett dunk off one of the C’s 16 turnovers put the game out of reach. Brandon Bass led the Celtics with 17 points and eight rebounds, Chris Johnson netted 12 points on the night his first 10-day contract is set to expire and Gerald Wallace also added a dozen.
WHAT WENT WRONG
Sweet emotions: It’s almost as if everyone forgot they had to actually play a basketball game. Pierce and Garnett finished scoreless in the first quarter (0-3 FG), and the Nets were 4-of-18 in the opening 12 minutes. The Celtics weren’t any better, as Brooklyn took a 35-34 halftime lead. (Fitting, the C’s had 34 first-half points, by the way.) Pierce didn’t score his first points until the third quarter, when he sunk a pair of free throws 1:08 into the frame.
Oh, shoot: After Brad Stevens ripped his team for settling for too many jumpers against the Thunder, the Celtics fell into the same trap in the third quarter against Brooklyn, taking 12 of their 18 shots outside the paint and making just three in the frame. Meanwhile, the Nets built a six-point cushion heading into the fourth quarter.
Sully-Green: While Rondo and Bass enjoyed stellar games against their former teammates, Jeff Green and Jared Sullinger struggled offensively opposite the two C’s legends. Through three quarters, the pair was a combined 3-for-18 from the floor, and Stevens actually gave more crunch-time minutes to Gerald Wallace and Humphries.
WHAT WENT RIGHT
Paying tribute: As usual, the folks behind the video tributes did a masterful job putting together pieces for both Pierce and Garnett. Likewise, the crowd responded accordingly, chanting “Paul. Pierce.” before the Nets lineup was introduced, cheering their introductions and tearing the roof off the Garden when the Garnett and Pierce tributes were played on the Jumbotron during the second timeout and following the first quarter, respectively.
National TV Rondo: Whether it was the bright lights or just a natural progression, Rondo enjoyed his best game since returning from ACL surgery. He played 14 first-half minutes, also his most this season, producing eight points, five rebounds and four assists by the break. Whether he meant his “just another game” comment about his former teammates’ return or not, Rondo showed little emotion as he remained focused on his comeback.
Bass swishing: Only a handful of the current Celtics were on the roster with Truth and Ticket, and Bass was one of them, getting the start over Kris Humphries. Like Rondo, he responded with a solid game against his former mates, even driving past both of them for a dunk at one point. After failing to grab more than five rebounds since Jan. 15, he asserted himself on the glass, leading a solid team rebounding effort that included double-digit offensive boards.
|01.26.14 at 6:59 pm ET|
After the first quarter Sunday night in his return to Boston, former Celtics captain Paul Pierce was given a stirring video tribute by the Celtics on the TD Garden video board. The crowd stood and cheered for several minutes while the cameras showed Pierce thanking the fans who chanted, “Thank you, Paul Pierce.”
During a minute-long video tribute with 2:25 left in the first quarter, Kevin Garnett stood and watched in front of the Brooklyn Nets bench as he was cheered by Celtics fans. At the end, he pounded his chest and pointed to the fans in appreciation.
|01.25.14 at 2:09 am ET|
Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett spoke at length to Nets media about their Boston homecoming. Here’s a sample of what they said leading up to Sunday’s game, their first against the Celtics in the Garden.
Garnett: ”I’m gonna embrace it for whatever it is. The emotions are gonna be very high, and I’ll react accordingly.”
Pierce: “It’s going to be special. I don’t know how I’ll react, what emotions are going to be going through my head.”
Garnett: ”I think anybody who’s part of that run and part of that era will always be remembered. Bostonians, New Englanders, they understand that and they never forget their favorites. We was fortunate to be part of that whole transformation … and some things are forever, man. I’m happy to say I’m part of that era.”
Pierce: “Yeah, it’s gonna be a lot of emotions. You play your whole life there, you won a championship there. I mean, being the first time coming [back] … I never thought it would happen, but it is and it’ll be here Sunday.”
Garnett: “I think they saw the appreciation and the hard work that we put into that, the effort more than anything. It’s funny, they have a little pregame thing they used to always say, and in the pregame, I used to always hear Larry Bird. I would never look up, but I would hear it. Larry said, ‘You can’t fool the people of Boston. They know when you’re working hard, they know pure basketball.’ And that’s right. When you go all out, they understand that, they root for that, and that’s what they remember.”
|01.25.14 at 1:53 am ET|
As the Celtics prepare to welcome Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett back to Boston on Sunday, one member of the new-look franchise knows the two legends of the game all too well from the opposite side of the ball. Joel Anthony endured three straight playoff meetings against the Celtics from 2010-12 as a member of the Heat.
“More than anything, you just wanted to beat them,” said Anthony, who entered the league the same year Garnett came to Boston. “You really, really wanted to beat them. They made you want to be like that because of how they played and how they competed. It’s really the beauty of the game, the beauty of basketball — the whole competition aspect and what you love about the game – to be able to have those type of moments, those battles, those types of feelings and emotions. That’s what it’s all about — to be able to have those battles with that team was special.”
Particularly after a brutal loss to an undermanned Thunder team, Anthony’s reminiscence of those series — a five-game Celtics win before LeBron James‘ arrival during the magical 2010 run, the five-game Heat victory when Rondo dislocated his elbow in 2011 and the epic seven-game Eastern Conference finals in 2012 — will make any basketball fan long for one more matchup between those grit and balls C’s and King James ascending to his throne.
“You respected who they were, what type of team they were and how good of a team that they were,” Anthony said. “Those were the games that guys really got up for, because we knew we were going to be in a battle with those guys every single night and every single minute on the floor. That was just the biggest thing, knowing that they were such competitors — that team was such a tough team to play against every single night.”
As Pierce and Garnett’s arrival in Nets uniforms will attest on Sunday, those days of meaningful Celtics-Lakers and Celtics-Heat playoff meetings are long gone — a chapter in NBA history that will be remembered the same way Larry Bird‘s Celtics and Magic Johnson‘s Lakers ultimately made way for Michael Jordan‘s Bulls.
There were a lot of tough battles for LeBron when he was in Cleveland and with us in Miami, a lot of pain from losing to that team,” added Anthony. “They were an extremely good basketball team, and so to be able to win those games was big, because it was really a huge step for us to be able to get that monkey off our back in terms of surpassing a team that you struggled against and that you respected, but that you wanted to beat more than anything.”
Was it really mutual respect, or was there more to it than that? Because it sure seemed like there was more to it than that. “I think there was some dislike in there,” said Anthony. “Yeah, there was some dislike in there.”
Regardless, Anthony remembers Pierce and Garnett the way most everyone does.
“KG’s intensity and demeanor,” he said. “Defensively, especially, he changed how that team was. They kind of took on his identity. And, in terms of Paul, his ability to hit those big shots. They’d find a way to keep it close, and Paul would end up getting the ball in some kind of iso and find a way to always make big shots.”
Yup, that’s Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett in a nutshell. Even Rajon Rondo, who called their homecoming “just another game,” knows deep down Sunday will be special. There are too many memories for it not to be.