That beautiful new Brooklyn arena and those slick black uniforms are getting the Nets plenty of attention.
The Boston Celtics sure noticed, and they delivered a reminder Thursday night that the road to the Atlantic Division title doesn’t run through Atlantic Avenue just yet.
Paul Pierce scored 18 points despite briefly leaving with an ankle injury, and the Celtics spoiled the Nets’ return to national TV with a 115-85 exhibition victory.
”Kevin Garnett came out tonight and (Rajon) Rondo and Pierce with that look on their face like even though it’s a preseason game, we want to send a message,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said.
”No matter what documentaries or books that are being written about us this year, everybody’s not excited. Everybody’s not impressed, so we’re going to have to really play and we can’t have the type of effort we had early in the game.”
Courtney Lee also had 18 for the Celtics in a rematch of the Nets’ 97-96 victory in Boston two nights earlier. The Nets rallied to pull that one out even while resting their starters, but they fell too far behind in this one for a comeback.
Jason Terry made all five of his 3-point attempts for 15 points and Pierce was 4 for 4 behind the arc as the Celtics shot 56.5 percent overall from the field and 11 of 19 (58 percent) on 3-pointers.
Garnett said the Celtics’ inspired play was because of their dismal effort in a 107-75 loss to Philadelphia on Monday, not because they were trying to put the new kids on the block, as Johnson called the Nets, back in line.
”When we touch the floor man, it’s all business,” he said. ”It has nothing to do with Brooklyn. We felt like Philly, that was embarrassing. We don’t play basketball like that. That was embarrassing to us. We have a culture here that we adopt.
”When you put this jersey on, it comes with responsibility. Whether it’s preseason, we’re (messing) around, chilling, 1-on-1, 21, whatever it is, it comes with responsibility. We don’t take that lightly around here. We felt like in Philly we took a step back.”
Brook Lopez scored 14 points for the Nets, who lost for the first time in four preseason games. All-Star guards Deron Williams and Joe Johnson shot a combined 6 of 22 from the field.
The game was televised by TNT, the Nets’ first national TV appearance since a March 30, 2011, game at the Knicks. But while the Nets’ $1 billion new arena and upgraded roster are earning them plenty of recognition, their game doesn’t look quite ready for prime time, yet.
Still, they earned praise before the game from Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who said the Nets’ rebirth in Brooklyn was ”terrific.”
”I’ve been in the league a long time. Never seen a team rebrand themselves in six months,” he said. ”It’s like this is a whole – it is a new franchise. But it feels that way, it feels like this is different, like they just plucked this team out of the space and all of a sudden they’ve got a hell of a team in our division that wears black uniforms.”
But Rivers’ team has ruled the Atlantic for five years, and Pierce and the Celtics seemed to issue a warning they plan to keep it that way.
”This is a big stage and people are coming in here trying to prove a point,” Nets forward Kris Humphries said. ”There’s been a lot of hype with what kind of team we’re supposed to be and everyone wants to come in and establish themselves, so we’ve got to keep working. It’s not about what we’re supposed to be, it’s about what we become and what we work for.”
Rondo had 14 points and nine assists, and Garnett finished with 14 points for the Celtics, who had been 0-3 against NBA teams. Their only preseason victory before Thursday was during their two-game European trip.
”It’s still preseason,” Pierce said. ”We just want to get to the point where we’re looking a lot better, where we are executing our stuff offensively and defensively. That’s the most important thing right now. We do want to win games, but the most important thing is how we are playing right now.”
The Celtics forced three turnovers and hit their first four shots while racing to a 9-0 start. Boston led 27-15 after one and extended the lead to 19 on a couple of occasions in the second before taking a 59-44 lead into the locker room. The Celtics shot 56.5 percent in the first half.
The only negative for the Celtics in the first half was when Pierce hurt his left ankle after making a 3-pointer in front of his own bench. He went to the back to get the ankle re-taped and returned to start the second half, even shaking off another fall when Johnson pushed him out of bounds on a fast break for a flagrant foul.
Brooklyn trailed by 14 early in the third before Boston ran off eight straight, opening a 73-51 bulge on Garnett’s jumper with 6:29 left in the period. The Nets got back within 14 after three before the Celtics blew it open again.
Celtics forward Brandon Bass sat out the second half with a sore right ankle. Reserve guard Leandro Barbosa, who signed with the Celtics on Thursday, was not available due to pending visa paperwork.