Williams, Pierce return, lead Nets over Celtics

For Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, seeing Deron Williams back

far outweighed seeing the Celtics again.

Williams scored a season-high 25 points in his return to the

lineup, Brook Lopez added 24, and the Brooklyn Nets beat Boston

104-96 Tuesday night in the first matchup for Pierce and Garnett

against their former team.

”D-Will set the tone for how we were going to play tonight,”

Garnett said.

Garnett had 11 points, just his third time in double figures

this season, and grabbed nine rebounds. Pierce finished with four

points and seven rebounds in his first appearance off the bench in

six years after making a quick recovery from a broken right

hand.

But the key was Williams, who had missed nine straight games and

11 overall with a sprained left ankle, and hadn’t been sharp in the

games in which he did appear.

”He’s the head of the snake,” Pierce said. ”I mean he’s one

of the most important pieces of what we’re trying to do here, what

we’re trying to build and trying to win a championship.”

The Nets won consecutive games for the first time this season, a

stunning stat for a team that considered itself a championship

contender after acquiring Pierce and Garnett in a blockbuster that

was agreed to on draft night.

Both veterans had struggled, with the 12.4 points per game and

.368 shooting by Pierce easily the lowest of his career before he

was hurt on Nov. 29. The Nets had lost six straight at home, their

longest skid since moving to Brooklyn.

”We’re starting to get whole and it’s definitely good to have

everybody back,” Williams said. ”Even though Paul didn’t start, I

thought he came in and gave us a big boost off the bench. It seemed

like our energy level was a lot better. More intensity on both ends

of the floor.”

Avery Bradley scored 22 points and Jeff Green had 19 for the

Celtics, who have been competitive after trading away two of their

most important players from their 2008 NBA championship team.

Boston had a three-game winning streak snapped and its Atlantic

Division-leading record fell to 10-13.

”The players that they had come back tonight, I still feel like

they were a very good team. But obviously having two of their

leaders as in Deron Williams and Paul, you know that definitely

helps them out a lot,” Bradley said.

The Celtics had started with 14-0 and 12-0 leads in their last

two games, the latter eventually ballooning to a 45-point bulge in

a 114-73 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday that was the

NBA’s most lopsided game this season.

Brooklyn got off to the strong start in this one, pulled away

again after Boston tied it, and put it away when Williams, who came

in averaging just 9.3 points, scored eight in the final period.

”They played great tonight. Played really hard, really

together. They took us out of what we wanted to do,” Celtics coach

Brad Stevens said. ”Like I said, we weren’t playing the New Jersey

Nets that played without D-Will for those 10 games. That is their

team and they’re a good basketball team.”

Pierce was expected to miss two to four weeks, but sat out only

four games before returning to practice Monday. He received a nice

ovation when he checked in with a protective glove covering his

hand midway through the first quarter, no doubt aided by the many

Boston fans that were noticeable all around Barclays Center.

He said he’s still getting used to the glove, joking he might

take it out to the movies, and might have to get used to a new

role. Coach Jason Kidd said he would consider whether Pierce would

remain with the second unit.

Garnett gave a pat on the head and a little hug before the

opening tip to Boston’s starters, who go on to face former coach

Doc Rivers and the Clippers on Wednesday.

The Nets led 31-20 after one, their largest lead after the

opening quarter this season, and 56-47 at the half.

Boston quickly tied it at 60, but the Nets responded with 10

straight points, going ahead 70-60 on Williams’ jumper, and the

lead reached 85-68 on Pierce’s free throw with 1:14 left.

NOTES: It was the first time Garnett played against the Celtics

since March 4, 2007, for Minnesota. … Boxer Paulie Malignaggi was

presented with the championship of Brooklyn belt by Barclays Center

CEO Brett Yormark in the second quarter after beating fellow

Brooklyn product Zab Judah in a welterweight bout here

Saturday.

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