Photo credit: Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images
When Paul Pierce made a charge against Gerald Wallace in the fourth quarter, it was hard to believe that the black protective glove he was wearing was to aid the healing of a broken hand.
After the game, it was even harder to believe that either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett had ever played for the Boston Celtics before.
''My whole focus was worried about getting back healthy, coming back and trying to help my team establish something at home,'' Pierce said. ''It just happens to be a coincidence that the day I come back was against the Celtics. It'll probably be a little bit more emotional when I go to Boston. But we already had a preseason game against them. So I'll move on."
"Because Doc Rivers isn't over there, it's probably a little less emotional," Garnett said. "You don't see Danny Ainge sitting on the side; you don't see Paul Pierce over there, Ray Allen, Eddie House."
For them, the time for sentiment is over. Now they have to find a way to fix their Brooklyn Nets team, which quite frankly has been spiraling deeper and deeper into a scrapheap. Injuries and coaching problems have seen them start the season at the foot of the Eastern Conference along with the other surprise underachievers the New York Knicks. This had left the door open for the Boston Celtics to sit at the top of the ugly conference despite a losing record.
But now the Nets are different. Now they have a certain Deron Williams back in their lineup along with a recovering Paul Pierce. It was a sign that the Nets were about to get things back on track, something that Celtics head coach Brad Stevens had pointed out before the game. The difference, he said, would be as clear as “night and day.”
''I think you saw what I was talking about with Williams,'' said Stevens. ''End of the shot clock, guy makes a play, driving it in, kicking -- he made huge plays, I thought, for them. And, probably the most important thing was, when we got after them in the backcourt, they subbed him in, which was a good move. And they handled [the defensive pressure] better with him on the floor. I thought he was the biggest difference in the game, though the obvious difference was also Lopez’s size.''
At the post match press conference, Stevens was sporting a rather uncommon layer of sweat on his brow, like he had run a couple of laps around the court. No doubt this was caused by coaching an attempted comeback with five minutes remaining in the game. If things had gone entirely to script, then the Nets would have won easily.
But they didn't.
The Celtics were scrappy and caused the Nets quite a few problems. Just after halftime the C's were able to erase a nine point deficit in well under three minutes. That's the pace and precision of a team built to win, not a team looking for a good lottery pick.
Both the Nets' and the Celtics' fates are going to be intertwined from now on, and Pierce, Garnett, and Stevens are adopting the right attitude.
It's no longer about the past. It's no longer about who we thought they were. It's all about now.