WALTHAM, Mass. (AP) Paul Pierce might have trouble finding the visitors’ locker room or controlling his emotions in his return to Boston.
Beating the Celtics? That should be the easy part.
Pierce and Kevin Garnett will face their former team on their old home court for the first time Sunday night since the blockbuster trade that sent them to the Brooklyn Nets on draft night.
”It’s going to be a little weird,” Pierce said.
The former captain spent all 15 of his previous seasons with Boston. Garnett was there for the past six. Together with Ray Allen, they led the team to its 17th NBA championship in 2008. They made it back to the finals in 2010, but lost to the Los Angeles Lakers in the seventh game.
Quite a turnaround from the four straight seasons without a playoff series victory before they teamed up.
”The emotions probably will be high just because of the success that we had,” Garnett said. ”We were fortunate to be part of that whole transformation and some things are forever, man, and I’m happy to say that I’m part of that era.”
A bygone era for the Celtics.
In full rebuilding mode, they have only five players who were teammates with Pierce and Garnett last season. The Celtics are 3-16 in their last 19 games.
”They’re going through a lot of different changes, sort of like the change they went through when I was there before we got Kevin and before we got Ray,” Pierce said. ”They’re still trying to find their identity.”
The Nets struggled early, going 10-21. But they’re 9-1 in their last 10 games with Pierce and Garnett playing important roles.
The teams met twice in the exhibition season, but Garnett sat out both games while Pierce played only the one in Brooklyn. Both played in the teams’ first regular-season meeting, a Nets win in Brooklyn.
When they return to Boston, video tributes for both players are scheduled during timeouts or at the end of quarters.
Will Pierce be as emotional as former coach Doc Rivers was when he returned with his new team, the Los Angeles Clippers, following his departure from Boston after last season?
His reaction, Pierce said, ”is something you can’t script.
”It’s going to be a lot of emotions. You play your whole life there. You won a championship there. The first time coming to the building (as a visitor), I never thought it would happen.”
Garnett was a visitor during 12 seasons with Minnesota before joining the Celtics. His intensity quickly made him a fan favorite.
”I’m sure the emotions are going to be very high and I’ll react accordingly,” Garnett said, ”but we’re there to win a game and I hope this doesn’t overshadow the game. It’ll be good to see (Rajon) Rondo and some other personal friends that, obviously, don’t play. Other than that, it’s another game that I’ve got to be prepared for.”
Rondo was in just his second pro season when Garnett arrived and became a mentor. Now the Celtics’ point guard is the new captain and came back from major knee surgery in time to play against his former teammates.
”I talk to them all the time, text,” Rondo, who has played four games since returning, said after practice Saturday. ”I don’t think it’ll affect us at all. It’s part of the process. This isn’t the first time (ex-Celtics) have come back in this building.”
First-year Celtics coach Brad Stevens doesn’t know Garnett or Pierce. He does know what they mean to the franchise.
”Those guys did so many great things for this organization,” Stevens said. ”You’re thankful for what they did.”
They turned a struggling organization into a champion.
They were ”the blueprint (for) what a professional is,” Rondo said, ”leading by example, just great role models.”
But that’s in the past.
”It’s something I will never forget about,” Rondo said, ”but you’re only credited with what you’ve done as of late.”
For the Nets, that’s been pretty impressive with their climb in the standings. Now comes a special touch, the return of Pierce and Garnett to applause from Celtics fans.
”It’s going to be fun,” Pierce said. ”I don’t know how I’ll react, what emotions are going to be going through my head. Wait and see.”