Paul Pierce drove his shoulder right into LeBron James, a postseason foul in a preseason game.
A message to the NBA champions?
”It’s a message to the league,” Pierce said.
The Brooklyn Nets showed the defensive toughness Pierce said will be their identity, smothering the Miami Heat 86-62 on Thursday night after retiring coach Jason Kidd’s number.
Brook Lopez scored 14 points for the Nets on a night that peaked with the pregame. Kidd’s No. 5 was lifted to the Barclays Center rafters during a ceremony a few minutes before the tip, honoring him for leading the franchise to its greatest NBA success.
The game itself could have used the jolt Kidd provided when the Nets acquired him in 2001. Except for a few James highlights, it was typical exhibition play, with starters resting and subs misfiring for much of the night.
But there’s already a hint this could become a rivalry when the games do count, as Miami-Boston was before the Celtics traded Pierce and Garnett to Brooklyn. A day earlier, James noted that those two shouldn’t have been so hard on Ray Allen when he opted to leave the Celtics for the Heat, since Pierce and Garnett ended up leaving themselves — though Allen was a free agent and the pair was traded.
”Tell LeBron worry about Miami,” Garnett said when asked about James’ comments. ”He has nothing to do with Celtic business.”
James and Chris Bosh each finished with 16 points for the Heat, who shot 32 percent and did next to nothing in the 20 minutes James wasn’t on the floor.
”We’ve got so many guys out, we’re just trying to get better and not waste an opportunity to get better,” James said. ”I think we did that at phases. Obviously, we don’t have all our guys playing, but when guys were in the game, they played, worked hard.”
The Nets believe their acquisition of Pierce and Garnett, along with a number of other moves, has given them a roster that can compete with the Heat in the Eastern Conference. All that could really be told from this game was that the Nets appear to have a better back end of their bench.
Miami managed just 12 points in the second quarter, when it went mostly with reserves and fell behind 44-28.
Dwyane Wade sat out for the Heat and Deron Williams is still sidelined by a sprained ankle for the Nets, but the exhibition at times had a playoff feel to it thanks to the rivalry among some of the veterans. James was dribbling quickly up the floor in the first quarter and Pierce simply threw his shoulder into James for a foul that stopped the fast break.
Garnett played only 10 minutes.
Kidd led the Nets to consecutive NBA Finals as a player and became the sixth member of the franchise to have his number retired. A few former teammates attended the ceremony, while taped messages from Kenyon Martin, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson were shown during breaks in the game.
”He was the catalyst that made us what we were,” said NBA president Rod Thorn, who was the Nets’ general manager who acquired Kidd from Phoenix.
Key reserves Allen and Chris Andersen also sat out for the Heat, while the Nets remained without Jason Terry and Andrei Kirilenko from their bench.
The teams will meet again in Brooklyn on Nov. 1 in the Nets’ home opener.