Nets top Celtics 85-79 as Pierce, Garnett return
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By HOWARD ULMAN
It started with pregame standing ovations for the leaders of the Celtics last championship team and ended with an 85-79 win for the Brooklyn Nets after Garnett picked off Rajon Rondo's turnover and dribbled in slowly for an uncontested basket with 20 seconds left Sunday night.
"I knew they needed a 3 at that point and I just played the passing lane," Garnett said. "I thought I was going to get caught, but I got it."
That gave Brooklyn an 82-77 lead.
It was a rare highlight for the returning stars in a game in which they fought to control their emotions while still trying to contribute to their current team.
"I had lumps in my throat and I tried to focus as much as I could," Pierce said. "I'm happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball."
Pierce, the second leading scorer in Celtics history, and Garnett scored just six points each, and Pierce missed eight of his 10 shots. But they received several standing ovations on the court where they won the team's 17th championship in 2008. They also were honored in tributes shown on the video screen early in the game six months after a blockbuster trade sent them to Brooklyn.
"It was, by far, the hardest day that I had to focus," said Garnett, a 19-year veteran. "It's a good homecoming."
The Celtics, losing for the 17th time in 20 games, were led by Brandon Bass with 17 points. Rondo had 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists one night after having dinner with Pierce and Garnett.
During the video tribute to Garnett in a timeout with 2:25 left in the first quarter, he stood near his bench with a white towel draped over his head. He smiled, pounded the left side of his chest and waved several times to the crowd.
The tribute to Pierce at the end of the first quarter was longer and drew a louder ovation. He looked up at the video board above center court with a somber expression. The camera panned to him on the court showing him repeatedly mouthing the words, "thank you."
Celtics coach Brad Stevens quickly gave his players instructions then let them watch the tributes.
"It was the right thing to do," he said. "Not much in my life is bigger than the next possession, but that is."
Pierce spent 15 seasons with the Celtics after they drafted him with the 10th pick in 1998. Garnett was obtained in a trade with Minnesota before the 2007-08 season and, with Pierce and Ray Allen, led Boston to their most recent championship.
But the Celtics are in full rebuilding mode now and trailed 59-53 after three quarters then allowed the first six points of the fourth as the Nets led by 12. Boston cut the lead to 73-70 on a 3-pointer by Chris Johnson, playing on a 10-day contract, with 4:37 remaining.
The Nets scored the next five points on a layup by Kirilenko, a free throw by Deron Williams and a jumper by Pierce. That made it 78-70.
With the score 80-72, Boston cut the deficit to three on a field goal by Bass and a 3-pointer by Rondo, two of only five current Celtics who played with Pierce and Garnett last season.
"We got caught up in (their return)," Bass said, "but for the most part we had a job to do."
Joe Johnson then missed his shot and Rondo rebounded, giving Boston a chance to tie with a 3-pointer. He moved the ball upcourt only to lose it to Garnett, who went in for Brooklyn's final field goal.
"He's done it all year for us defensively," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "He's always in the right place at the right time."
Pierce scored his first two points of the game on free throws 1:08 into the third quarter then hit his first field goal, a 16-foot jumper that capped a 10-0 Nets run 2:51 into the period.
"It was just a special thing for me," Pierce said, "through my bad times, through my immature times, through my growing up, becoming a man for this city and winning a championship, everybody sticking with me. I would just like to tell them, `thank you.' "
NOTES: The crowd gave Pierce and Garnett a standing ovation when they took the court for pregame warm-ups and when they were the last two Nets starters introduced. ... Garnett won the opening tip against Bass and got the ball back to Pierce. ... The Celtics recalled center Vitor Faverani from the Maine Red Claws of the NBDL.
Updated January 26, 2014