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.