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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The Brooklyn Nets are undergoing an attitude adjustment, with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett overseeing the transformation.
On Thursday against the defending champion Miami Heat, Pierce delivered a hard foul to longtime rival LeBron James in the first quarter of the Nets' 86-62 win. Pierce said the playoff-type body check was "a message to the league" of what the Nets' identity will be this season.
Garnett then delivered a stern postgame message to James by telling the Heat star to mind his own business after James commented about how Ray Allen was criticized for leaving Boston when discussing the trade that sent Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry to Brooklyn earlier this week.
"He's entitled to his own opinion," Terry said about James on Friday, "which we don't care about."
Jason Kidd has to be smiling about not just the tough rhetoric but the more physical play. Upon taking over as Brooklyn's rookie head coach, Kidd made it crystal clear that he wants his team to have a tougher, more physical and defensive-minded identity this season.
He went as far as to label the Nets' identity last season as "vanilla." The Nets finished sixth last season in allowing 95.0 points per game. But they finished 23rd in the league by allowing opponents to shoot 46.4 percent from the field.
So far, Pierce and Garnett have heeded Kidd's mission statement about defending and being stingier, and the Nets are taking notice.
"I mean, if you looked at LeBron when he caught it, the way he took off, he was about to send a message," point guard Deron Williams said of James going full speed toward the basket before Pierce's shoulder check. "So I think it was just Paul stopping him from getting a clear [path] to the lane.
"That's the type of fouls we have to have. It wasn't a dirty play. It was just a hard foul, and let him know we're here."
Williams said Kidd told the Nets at halftime Thursday that he wanted his team to set the tempo by letting the Heat know "we're here and we're not going to allow easy baskets."
"We're trying to carve out our identity," Terry said. "And it starts with your leaders. Paul Pierce is one of our leaders and before the game it was like, 'Look, if we're going to be tough, we must defend our home.'
"Regardless of who we're playing against, we're going to be physical. We're not going to allow easy baskets. That was the tone that was set [Thursday] night."
Pierce wanted not only to send a message to the Heat but to the rest of the league that the Nets will be more physical and tougher this season.
"We want to be a hard, grind-it-out team," Pierce said after Thursday's win. "We want nothing to be easy. That's what we're trying to show in the last couple of games, the way our defense has been playing.
"We've given up so few points," Pierce added of the Nets, who have allowed an average of 79.6 points in their last three preseason wins. "That's the message we want to send. Some nights our shots are not gonna fall, but we can control that [defensive] end of the court."