Boston Celtics: Paul Pierce
Just the former captain looking out for the new one.
A couple hours later, in the still-odd confines of the visitors' locker room, Pierce praised Rondo while assessing the new captain's ability to lead Boston back to contender status.
"In the end, me and Rondo share a special bond," said Pierce. "We'll always be friends, we'll always have something in common with our championship, our kids still hang out together."
Amid the heartfelt words came a brief moment of levity.
Pierce said their children "hung out for [Rondo's] birthday, actually," giving himself a good belly laugh knowing full well the hoopla that ensued in these parts after Rondo skipped a trip to Sacramento last month to celebrate his birthday in Los Angeles.
Turning serious again, Pierce offered, "Rondo, I respect him and what he's doing moving forward with this franchise and it will always be that way."
If the Nets' January visit was one of emotion and indulgence for Pierce, this time around it was all about his former squad. Pierce and the Nets were ice cold shooting and the Celtics overcame their own sloppiness to emerge with a 91-84 triumph.
Pierce said it's always emotional returning to Boston, but that this visit couldn't compare to his first game back in a Nets uniform. He savored that night and the tribute video that rolled, allowing him to reflect on his 15 seasons with the Celtics.
This time around, Pierce spent most of his postgame chat with reporters gushing about Rondo and Boston's future.
"They are a young team, they got a mix of some veterans, some young guys they are developing and they are only going to get better," said Pierce. "Rondo is leading them right now, moving into the next generation of Celtics. I think their future is going to be very bright."
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BOSTON -- Rapid reaction after the Boston Celtics defeated the Brooklyn Nets 91-84 on Friday night at TD Garden:
The nitty gritty: Rajon Rondo put up 20 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, while Jerryd Bayless added 14 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals (while finishing a team-best plus-16) to help the Celtics to only their second win in their past nine tries. Jared Sullinger grabbed a team-high 12 rebounds as Boston dominated the glass (finishing with a 51-28 advantage) against undersized Brooklyn. Joe Johnson scored a team-high 21 points on 9-of-21 shooting, while Deron Williams added 20 points for the Nets. Former Celtics captain Paul Pierce finished with 10 points, 3 rebounds, 3 steals, and 1 assist in 21 minutes.
Turning point: The Celtics led by 12 at halftime and as much as 18 early in the third quarter, but the Nets were so cold in the first half, you figured they had to charge at some point. Sure enough, Brooklyn embarked on a 22-6 run to surge within two (70-68) with two minutes to play in the third frame. Fortunately for Boston, the Nets went ice cold again and Boston extended its lead back to 11 just two minutes into the fourth quarter after consecutive buckets by Bayless. The Nets never truly threatened again as Boston posted a wire-to-wire victory.
Loose balls: The Nets shot just 36.3 percent from the field overall (29-of-80) and, after missing 16 straight 3-pointers to start the game, finished 4-of-30 beyond the arc (13.3 percent). Boston turned the ball over a whopping 28 times but limited the damage (26 points) and shot 44.3 percent from the floor overall. Rondo made three first-quarter 3-pointers while setting a new career-high for 3-pointers in a season. Phil Pressey deserves a nod for being plus-15 in 13 minutes of floor time.
What it means: The Celtics (21-41) snapped a two-game losing streak. They're also likely to climb a bit in the standings after entering with the fourth-worst record in basketball. Boston wraps up this five-game homestand on Sunday with a visit from the Detroit Pistons. A trip to Indiana looms on Tuesday before the Celtics return home for visits from the New York Knicks (Wednesday) and Phoenix Suns (Friday).
A capacity crowd pulsing with energy and nostalgia embraced both Pierce and his trusted friend Kevin Garnett upon their first return to Boston since they were traded to the Brooklyn Nets last July.
On this night, the performance of their plucky Celtics team was of secondary importance. The fans not only cheered wildly as video tributes for each future Hall of Famer unfolded on the video screen high above the court (including a young woman who sobbed during the montage of the Truth's greatest moments), they celebrated every time Pierce touched the ball, passed it to a teammate or simply checked into the game.
They even saluted him when he was on the bench. One of the more surreal moments of Sunday's lovefest was when chants of "Paul Pierce" wafted through the building as Celtics forward Kris Humphries tried to shoot a pair of free throws for the home team.
It was not without irony that Humphries was one of the players traded for Pierce, although the real haul was the future first-round draft picks, the promise of a new day. That's what convinced Danny Ainge to ship Boston's second all-time leading scorer out of town.
It was a devastating blow to a proud, proud man who thought he'd earned the right to stay forever.
It was never his intent to step onto the parquet in black-and-silver Brooklyn colors, to dress in the opposing dressing room, to try to beat the only franchise he'd ever known.
"This was the toughest game I've ever had to play," Pierce conceded. "Tougher than any championship, tougher than any Game 7."
Although Pierce and KG had mentally prepared themselves for this trip and the inevitable emotional tug of war it would entail, it was completely and utterly disarming. All those No. 34 and No. 5 jerseys, all those "Celtic for Life" signs, all those standing ovations. How were they expected to concentrate?
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Hop HERE to see Garnett and Pierce introduced to a loud ovation before the game.
Kevin Garnett, already dripping with sweat and intensity while preparing for that night's game, would never look up at the video board (the only time he allowed himself that was when Gino was dancing away the final minutes of another lopsided victory), but Garnett heard every word spoken.
"It's funny, they have a little pregame thing they used to always [play]," Garnett explained. "I used to always hear Larry Bird. I would never look up, but I would hear it. Larry would say, '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 and they root for that, and that's what they remember."
On Sunday evening, 214 days after the Celtics and the Brooklyn Nets originally agreed to the blockbuster trade that ended the Boston tenure of Garnett and Paul Pierce, the two players return to TD Garden for the first time to play against their former team.
It's been suggested that the Celtics ought to hand out complimentary boxes of Kleenex as fans enter the building. We've been down this path before, with Boston fans having saluted the efforts of other recent heroes from the Big Three era and the 2008 title team. Boston fans roared for Eddie House, Glen Davis, Kendrick Perkins and even put rivalries aside when Ray Allen returned as a member of the Miami Heat.
In December, Doc Rivers was overcome with emotions when the team honored him after the first quarter of his first game back to Boston as coach of the Los Angeles Clippers. Rivers later noted his Boston return was as emotional as he gets, and he had to collect himself numerous times after the game while simply discussing the in-game tribute.
Now, Pierce and Garnett must endure the same.
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The Celtics are expected to run two video tributes with Garnett first (likely at the game's first timeout) then Pierce (likely after the first quarter). Celtics first-year coach Brad Stevens said he'll hurry his team in and out of the huddle at those breaks in order to appropriately acknowledge what those players meant to the organization.
But no need to save a box of tissues for Rajon Rondo, the only holdover from that Big Three era and the guy who won a title with Pierce and Garnett.
Rondo admitted that Pierce and Garnett laid the blueprint for how to be a successful team and taught him how to be a professional. But, like most of his teammates, the sight of those two players in Brooklyn's black-and-white uniforms is no longer staggering and Rondo is more focused on finding a way to slow an opponent that has won nine of its last 10 overall.
"Just like I played against [Oklahoma City's Kendrick Perkins on Friday] night," said Rondo. "There might be a lot of [expletive]-talking, but it’ll be fun. They are competitors, they compete. And I’ll do the same."
Truth be told, these Celtics players are rather divorced from the emotional aspect of Sunday's meeting and they are hoping to take advantage of any loss in focus for Pierce and Garnett.
"It's not a big deal for us; this is a big deal for [the media]," said Brandon Bass, who spent two years with Pierce and Garnett. "It’s more of a big deal for Paul and Kevin, we understand that. ... Hopefully it helps us get a win. That’s what really matters for us."
Echoed Jeff Green: "For me, I've already seen them [in Brooklyn], we already talked, [the emotional aspect is] more for them than for us. It’s going to be emotional for them, coming back for first time. But, for me, we’ve already said our hellos and talked. That has already taken place. It’s just another game against Brooklyn. I'm pretty much over it now."
Stevens reaffirmed that he doesn't know Pierce and Garnett personally, but, "just being a member of the organization, you're thankful for what they did." Stevens acknowledged there will be emotions for those players, and maybe for some of the veterans players still on Boston's roster (at least more than they'll admit), but, "we still have a game to play and that’s what we’re going to prepare to do."
It's important to Stevens to allow his players the opportunity to watch the tributes, just like he did when former coach Doc Rivers returned to Boston in December and when Bill Russell was honored at the home opener in November.
"We’ll get into the huddle and out of the huddle pretty quickly so that they can appropriately honor those guys and it’s what you have to do," said Stevens. "At the same time, then we’ve got to turn our mindset to playing as well as we can against them. Because those guys, first and foremost, achieved what they achieved here because they are competitive guys and they want to do well, too. We’re going to have to be in that mindset, too."
Added Stevens: "There are moments that are big, obviously, in a game. I think we all get caught up in a game. There are bigger things than the game itself. So, again, I don't think it’s anything out of the ordinary that we would do [stopping to watch the tributes]. We’ll get in and out of the huddle as quickly as we can."
"I just know that the emotions will probably be high, just because of the success that we had while we were in Boston," Garnett told reporters in Brooklyn following Friday's win. "We had some really good years there, some really promising years. I think it’s going to be forever, we’re embedded in it. ... 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.
"Some things are forever, man," Garnett added. "I’m happy to say that I'm part of that era."
Garnett spent most of his seven-minute postgame interview reflecting on his six seasons in Boston, alternating between nostalgia and playfully curiosity in advance of Sunday's visit.
"It’ll be good to be back in Boston," Garnett said. "I hear it’s freezing as s---. No different from New York. East Coast is East Coast. But, for the most part, it should be fun to go back and see what happens."
Added Garnett: "It’ll be what it is, man. I’m going to embrace it for whatever it is and I’m sure the emotions are going to be very high. And then I’ll react accordingly. But we’re there to win a game, and I hope this doesn’t overshadow the game. It’ll be good to see [former teammate Rajon] Rondo and some other personal friends that obviously don't play. Other than that, it’s another game that I have to be prepared for."
Alas, it seems impossible that the Garnett/Pierce return won't overshadow the game itself, particularly given the way Brooklyn is playing lately compared to a Boston team that has lost 13 of its past 15 overall.
For his part, Pierce, who elected to skip a preseason game here in October in order to make this his one-time return to the Garden this season, had already begun making plans for Sunday's game.
"I talked to [Celtics travel and equipment manager John Connor] today and I told him I'll probably sit in the equipment room like I used to always do in my 15 years there, who knows," Pierce said. "It's going to be a little weird, though."
Pierce said it would be fun to see all the familiar faces, including season-ticket holders that watched him grow during his 15 years with the Celtics.
"It's going to be a lot of emotions," Pierce said. "You play your whole life there, you win a championship there, I mean, being the first time back. ... It's going to be special. I don't know how I'll react, what emotions are going to be going through my head."
Maybe because of Boston's recent struggles, Celtics players downplayed the impending return of Pierce and Garnett. Asked about Sunday's game, Rondo said simply, "It’s another game. We need the win."
Pierce is glad to have Garnett alongside for the journey back.
"We shared so many memories, on and off the court -- shared our best memories in Boston," Pierce said. "We won a championship and, when you talk about the ride that we had together and the run, a lot of things go through your head, so it's fun to be able to share it with him."
So the former Celtics coach can only imagine what it will be like when Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett return to Boston for the first time when the Nets visit the Celtics on Jan. 26.
"That's going to be awesome," Rivers said before his Clippers faced the Knicks at the Garden on Friday. "It's going to be crazy. It's going to be awesome for them."
The Nets played the Celtics in the preseason at the TD Garden on Oct. 23, but Pierce and Garnett rested and did not play. Both former Celtics will surely be overwhelmed with emotion in their return to Boston.
Rivers immediately drew an ovation from Boston fans when he emerged from the visitor's tunnel at the TD Garden during his return with the Clippers on Dec. 11. There was a video tribute to Rivers with highlights of the 2008 Celtics title team during the second quarter.
Rivers was still trying to compose himself when talking to reporters well after the game that night.
"Yeah, that's as emotional as I ever [been]," Rivers said. "And that was an amazing night for me. It was awesome."
Rivers said he could only imagine what it will be like for his two former players, especially Pierce, who spent his entire career with the Celtics until a trade to the Nets last summer.
"Paul spent his whole career there and never really wanted to leave," Rivers said. "That will be a neat evening for them, and again, especially for Paul."
Rivers said he expected Celtics fans to give Pierce and Garnett a night they will never forget.
"I think the reason the city loved them both is because they did it right and they did everything they could every night to win a basketball game," Rivers said. "Cities feel that. New York is like that. New York, they say white collar, it's blue collar. You know what I mean? People see that.
"And they saw that in Kevin and Paul. And they were champions. So when you do that for a city, it is going to be received well so they will have a great night."
[Bonus Link: KG on 'Little Bro' Rondo in New York Post]
NEW YORK -- Kevin Garnett went over to Doc Rivers and hugged his former coach before tipoff.
It was an emotional reunion for Garnett, Rivers and Paul Pierce, the trio that guided the Boston Celtics to the franchise’s latest championship their first season together in 2007-08.
“It was a bit weird. I said something to ‘Truth’ [Pierce], like, ‘Man, this feels weird,’” Garnett said after his and Pierce’s Brooklyn Nets defeated Rivers’ Los Angeles Clippers, 102-93, Thursday at Barclays Center.
“We kind of had like a little conversation about it, but I’ll always have a special place for Doc. I thought he helped me [not only] grow as a player, but as a young man," Garnett said. "Telling us a lot about basketball and the philosophies of it and about being a young man -- a young black man -- understanding our responsibilities because we are men and we were starting our families at the same time.
“And just overall [he’s] a great role model. No one’s perfect -- all humans have their flaws -- but he’s damn near close to it. I’m just grateful that he just came into my life and I’m able to share that experience with him.”
Added Pierce: “It was just fun to go over there, say hi to him, and seeing how he’s doing. I asked him how was Boston [Wednesday night], he was like, ‘You’re next.’ He was very emotional. But it was fun. I actually went over to him and told him I know all his plays, and I’m going to give them away, so it was fun.”
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“I’ve already been past that a long time ago,” Pierce said Monday. “I’m a person that’s always been when it’s time to move on, you move on. You can ask any girlfriend I’ve ever had. That’s just the way it is. There’s no hard feelings. I’m here. This is where I’m at now, and you’ve gotta move on. You can’t mourn or put your head down. (You) just go to work.”
Pierce has had a tough time adjusting to his new team. In 15 games with the Nets (6-14), he’s averaging just 12.4 points on 36.8 percent shooting.
Pierce has missed the last five games due to a broken bone in his right hand. He thinks there’s a “good chance” he’ll play against the Celtics on Tuesday night at Barclays Center, but isn’t certain.
“I’ve had my ups and downs, but it’s not about me,” Pierce said. “It’s about getting this team healthy right now and trying to see if we can reach our potential.
“One of our goals before the season was to try and win a championship. Unfortunately, we didn’t get off to the best start, and I probably haven’t been playing the best basketball, due to some other minor injuries I’ve been dealing with. But I feel like as we continue to get healthy and guys come back and we get our chemistry, we’re gonna be there toward the end.”
Pierce still thinks the Nets have the potential to be a championship team.
“It’s just putting it all together, developing chemistry, getting healthy and then seeing what we’ve got,” he said. “We’ve seen flashes of it at times, but it’s tough when you don’t know who’s going to be in the lineup and who’s going to be out. But injuries happen to every team and it’s something we have to deal with. But I’d like to see us when we get fully healthy and see what our potential can possibly be.”
Pierce will make his regular-season return to Boston Jan. 26. He travelled there for Brooklyn’s preseason game, but was not at the arena while the game was played.
“I think the emotions are already behind me,” Pierce said. “We played them in the preseason. We had our press conference. I probably won’t have any more emotions until I get back into the arena that I played in. But I’ve moved on, they’ve on, Doc (Rivers) has moved on, Ray Allen (has) moved on. So it is what it is.”
WALTHAM, Mass. -- The Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets are tangled like a strand of old Christmas lights this season given their summer dealings and especially with the first matchup of the regular season coming up next Tuesday at the Barclays Center. But apprised that Paul Pierce had suffered a broken hand that will sideline him for 2-4 weeks (forcing him to miss next week's tilt), Jared Sullinger politely wondered why his post-practice interview on Monday had opened with chatter about a former Boston player.
Members of last season's Celtics squad were disappointed to learn of Pierce's injury, but they were more concerned with licking their own wounds after losing to Milwaukee on Saturday night. The Bucks, with two of their three wins this season coming against Boston, visit TD Garden for a third encounter on Tuesday night.
Courtney Lee raved about Pierce's professionalism, particularly how he was one of the first players in the weight room and on the practice floor last season. But asked if he was disappointed the Celtics wouldn't see Pierce next week, Lee was brutally honest.
"If he’s not playing, then that betters our chances of winning, so let him sit down," Lee said.
Like Lee, Brandon Bass sympathized with Pierce, lamenting the missed opportunity for him to play against his former team. But asked if had been looking forward to playing his old teammate next week, Bass likewise downplayed the significance.
"Nah, not really,” Bass said. “It’s just another game. I think all of us that played with him for a couple of years will be happy to see him or whatever, but it’s another game. We approach each game with the same competitive spirit."
That could make the Nets' visit to Boston on Jan. 26 the first time Pierce suits up against his former team during the regular season. Pierce played against the Celtics during a preseason game in Brooklyn in October.
Pierce is averaging a career-low 12.4 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.8 assists over 29.1 minutes per game in 15 appearances this season. The Nets are 5-12 (tied for the third worst record in the Eastern Conference).
Eventually Rivers accorded Paul Pierce the same latitude. He wasn't as insufferable as Garnett when he was injured, but if KG didn't have to come when he was hurt, Pierce was due the same treatment.
That's how it was in Boston, anyway.
And it appears that's how it'll be in Brooklyn, too.
Instead of a reunion between Rivers and two of the men he'd forged such a deep bond with in Celtic green Saturday night at Staples Center, we got a reminder of just how much things have changed.
Rivers is in Los Angeles now, trying to make winners out of the Clippers. Garnett and Pierce stayed home, resting various injuries. The Nets were trying to win without four of their starters, still wondering if this grand experiment they've leapt headlong into is all going to work out.
The Clippers ended up winning the game 110-103, but that was just the official accounting. Nothing else was settled here Saturday night, and you get the feeling nobody involved in the massive transactions that sent them all to their new homes this summer has a real idea yet how it's all going to work out.
Rivers has bonded with his new stars, Chris Paul and Blake Griffin, but is it as deep as the relationship he had with Garnett and Pierce?
New Nets coach Jason Kidd had a bond with Garnett and Pierce as a player, but will that translate into a coach-player relationship?
The Celtics let them all go before it was too late, but how long will it take to reboot? And even if they can, will it ever be as good as what they had?
It was telling that Kidd went along with a system established for Garnett and Pierce on nights they didn't play. Did he come to the same realization Rivers had? Or was he just choosing which battles to fight?
"That was something we set up in Boston, now the Brooklyn Nets have to deal with it," Rivers said with a laugh. "That was kind of funny.
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Oh sure, he's adjusting to life in the Big Apple just fine. The traffic is as bad as advertised, but he's embracing this first bit of NBA change after 15 seasons in Boston and knows his new team has a chance to compete for the league's biggest prize. Heck, he might even be used to the sight of himself in Brooklyn's black-and-white colors.
But Pierce misses Boston. He didn't say it explicitly when the Celtics visited the Barclays Center on Tuesday, but he didn't have to. How else do you explain how Pierce has made sure to watch a couple of Boston's exhibition games (most New Englanders aren't even watching these games)? Or why he got Jeff Green's phone number and plans to communicate with him during the season to help him navigate an increased role in the absence of Pierce and Kevin Garnett?
Pierce didn't seem in any hurry to leave, either. At one point he retreated into the shower area in search of other familiar faces. When the game started, Pierce used a stoppage in play to catch up with Rajon Rondo near the Boston bench after missing him in the locker room. Then, after the game, Pierce had even started to back off his decree that he might not come to town next week for an exhibition game at TD Garden, suggesting he'll talk it over with Nets coach Jason Kidd to decide the best plan of action.
Pierce misses Boston. And though he knows his return will be an emotional night -- and one he'd probably prefer to save for the regular season -- the chance to come hang out at his old stomping grounds probably intrigues Pierce.
"It’s definitely going to be a lot different when I get into the Garden, the first time I go to Boston," he said. "Because you’ve played your entire career there, made so many friends, so it's definitely going to be emotional. I don’t know if I’m looking forward to it because I already know I’m going to shed a tear or two. But it’s the business. I’m here in Brooklyn now and I wish everybody there good luck."
Pierce, traded to Brooklyn with Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry as part of a nine-player, three-draft pick blockbuster swap this offseason, circled the room to greet former teammates as well as team staffers. After spending the first 15 years of his NBA career with the Celtics, Pierce will play against the team he helped to a world title in 2008 for the first time on Tuesday night.
Pierce did not talk to reporters before Tuesday's game. Former teammate Jeff Green said it was good to see Pierce again, but remained focused on the game.
"He’s got to go do what he’s got to do, but it’s good to see his face," Green said. "I haven’t seen him in a while."
Nets coach Jason Kidd admitted it will be different for Pierce seeing the Celtics on the visitor's side.
"Probably seeing that green jersey on the other side will kind of be different," Kidd said. "But I think he is a professional and he will handle it well."
Kidd also confirmed that Kevin Garnett (begrudgingly) would not play against Boston after suiting up for the first night of a back-to-back on Monday in Philadelphia. Garnett already balked once this preseason about being asked to sit out the second night of a back-to-back. Kidd said the conversation went only slightly better this time.
"When you talk about KG and just his will, he’s a professional, he loves to compete, and you love to have those guys on your team," Kidd said. "And any time there is a game, he wants to compete. But also for him, this is his night off."
As for having Pierce and Garnett on his roster after years of competing against the duo, Kidd offered, "I always respected those two playing with KG and playing against Paul. But now seeing them up close and their work ethic and coming to practice, if it is 10 [a.m.], they are there at 8:30. They are understanding what it takes to be a professional, but also to be great at their craft. I do respect them even more seeing it up close."
One other note from pregame:
* SAME STARTERS FOR C'S: The Celtics will stick with the same starting lineup from Saturday's win over the Knicks featuring Avery Bradley, Jordan Crawford, Green, Brandon Bass and Jared Sullinger. Asked if the team is getting more settled with their lineup, coach Brad Stevens said, "We could still get a number of different ways in either [the frontcourt or backcourt]. The one place that [Kris] Humphries hasn’t gotten a ton of run at is the 4, so hopefully we get him a little bit of that over the next two games. Obviously, things are not settled. But we had a better rhythm and we also had two groups that played well together last game, although our starting unit is small."
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