BOSTON – Paul Pierce was at ease as he walked onto the TD Garden floor Friday morning.
His Brooklyn Nets are in the midst of a four-game winning streak and any anticipation for Pierce playing in his former home for the past 15 years is in the rear view mirror now.
It was tough for the Boston fan favorite to focus on basketball back in late January when the Garden faithful showered him with multiple standing ovations before, during and after an emotional video tribute.
Now though, Pierce acknowledges that while it will still mean something to be back in Boston, it won’t be as emotional an evening.
“I think all of the emotions is out,” Pierce explained. “It’s still going to be a little bit of emotions every time you come into this gym. Being here so many years, so many memories here, but I don’t think it will be as much as it was last time.”
Pierce will be the only former long-time Celtic making a homecoming Friday night, as Kevin Garnett stayed behind in Brooklyn with back spasms. The veteran forward has missed the Nets’ past four games due to the ailment.
“It’s tough on [Garnett to sit out],” Pierce said, “Regardless if it was Boston or anywhere, it’s tough on him just to sit out. He loves the game, he wants to be out there for his teammates, but the key right now for us is for him to get healthy in this last stretch run of games.”
Garnett’s absence has not slowed down the Nets lately, though. Brooklyn has won four straight games, continuing their 2014 turnaround after a dismal start to the season. The Nets have put together at 20-8 record since Jan. 1, largely predicated on the decision to move to a small-ball lineup featuring Pierce at the four. The long-time small forward has warmed up to his new role quickly.
“I think with the way the NBA is going, it’s not the traditional power forward anymore. The way the league is going, a lot of the four men are stretch fours, they play a lot on the perimeter, that’s just the way of the league. I’m just trying to take advantage of it,” Pierce said.
Pierce also threw in his two cents on the controversy surrounding his former teammate Rajon Rondo skipping out on the Celtics’ trip to Sacramento two weeks ago. Boston’s star point guard remained in Los Angeles to celebrate his birthday with his family, despite being asked by Brad Stevens and Danny Ainge to remain with the team on the trip.
“I thought it was great he enjoyed his birthday. He said he wasn’t playing anyway. I enjoy my birthday every year. Mine is in the preseason,” Pierce said with a laugh.
Boston’s former captain continued: “I don’t see what the big deal is about it. I think everyone is making a big issue of it … so Happy Birthday, Rondo!”
While Pierce’s influence in Boston is still missed, it remains clear he’s providing valuable veteran leadership in Brooklyn as the Nets work their way up in the Eastern Conference standings.
“We’re just getting into a good groove,” Pierce said. “It’s not only me, I think it’s everybody. We got good chemistry. We understand what we are trying to do each and every night. Once you fall into a comfortable place within an offense and everything you do, it’s easier on everybody, not only myself.”
The Nets remain just three games back of the Toronto Raptors for the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The journey to reach that spot continues through Boston tonight for Pierce, this time with a little less emotion involved.
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