This is an article I never thought I would write. Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett RETURN to Boston tonight as members of the BROOKLYN Nets to face-off against the Boston Celtics at the TD Bank Garden.
I started watching the Celtics in the mid-90’s when there wasn’t much to root for in the Boston Garden/Fleet Center. 1998 comes around and the Celts draft Paul Pierce, a scoring Small Forward who was slipping in the draft due to his reported poor training habits (If you want to take a trip down the internet memory lane, read this Jackie MacMullan piece about Pierce from 1998).
It didn’t take long for Pierce to endear himself to Celtics fans. After averaging 16.5 points per game in his rookie season, Pierce continued to improve and pushed some poor Celtics teams to the playoffs, including a memorable Eastern Conference Finals against the New Jersey Nets. The Celtics playoff contests with the Nets created somewhat of a rivalry, perhaps the team’s first rivalry since it’s glory days of the 80’s and their memorable games against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Pierce put the Celtics back on the map, but trade rumors and a lack of talent around him frustrated him for most of his Celtics career. It was during another draft that Pierce would get his chance to play with players better than Antoine Walker.
During the 2007 draft, the Celtics traded for sharpshooter Ray Allen. Many believe this move is what convinced Kevin Garnett to willingly accept a trade to Boston, a transaction that happened only a month later. They formed the first big three of the modern era and brought banner number 17 to Boston.
I think that short history lesson was enough and we can move towards the present. Pierce and Garnett were moved to the Brooklyn Nets in order to compete for a championship at the end of their respective careers. While losing Garnett did tug on some emotional strings, it was Pierce leaving that really put Celtics fans into therapy. Pierce himself was very emotional when the trade was announced, and even watching him during the offseason, and the start of this season, it was obvious he seemed uncomfortable and out of place.
Now here we are. January 26th, 2014. Paul Pierce makes his first return to Boston as an opposing player and he has carved out a nice role for himself as a shooter and facilitator in the Nets half-court offense. There is a video tribute in place for both Pierce and Garnett and I believe there will be tears from those sitting in the court side seats, heading all the way up into the rafters near Pierce and Garnett’s banner. We will never forget what both athletes brought to us as a fan base and while it is sad to see them in different colors, I am sure we will see them back in green and white as players or fans sitting in the Garden.
As for the game itself, the Nets come in as one of the hottest, if not the hottest, team in the NBA. Joe Johnson has been playing some of the best basketball he has produced in nearly two or three years. Garnett has done a good job manning the five spot since Brook Lopez has gone down and the Nets defense has gotten better each passing week.
What really makes the Nets so dangerous is their depth. Three-point specialist Mirza Teletovic has had a great 2014 and will be an interesting matchup for the likes of Jared Sullinger, Kelly Olynyk, or Brandon Bass. Shaun Livingston has provided outstanding defense as the team’s starting Point Guard, and is giving opposing guards fits when he posts up because of his length. Rajon Rondo and Phil Pressey may not be able to deal with Livingston’s length when they guard him, so we may see the longer Chris Johnson get a shot at him, or perhaps Gerald Wallace. Notice there was no mention of Deron Williams, Andray Blatche, and Andrei Kirilenko; three more talented players on the Nets squad. Yeah, that’s what we call depth.
Look for the Celts to try and run on the older Nets team. Jeff Green and Rondo know a lot about Garnett and Pierce, as well as much of the Nets roster due to their experience playing with and against them. The Celtics will struggle to score in the half-court, especially without Avery Bradley’s jump shooting and will need to find a way to get transition layups and three-pointers.
My only regret is that MarShon Brooks will not get the chance to go against his former team. I was really looking forward to his four points and two rebounds statement game, but I will have to settle on watching Gerald Wallace go for a smooth nine and five to stick it to his former club!
Prediction: Nets 97, Celtics 84