Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are on the back ends of their fabulous NBA careers, already having achieved championship status along with numerous personal accolades and awards. Together again with the Brooklyn Nets, they bring to their new team a veteran presence and a will to win that could prove to be invaluable by the end of the 2013-2014 season.
It was that presence that was a deciding factor in the Nets’ 101-100 victory over the defending NBA champion Miami Heat on Friday.
Pierce knocked down two key free throws with seven seconds left to help the Nets beat the Heat for the first time since 2009.
When told the victory snapped a 13-game losing streak for the Nets against the Heat, Garnett was surprised. But he also pointed out that the past isn’t important.
"Deron [Williams] told us that before, I didn't really know that stat," Garnett said. "What they've done up until this point, up until this year, doesn't really matter. It's history. I think we showed growth."
In fact, Garnett and Pierce are in Brooklyn to help the Nets purge themselves of the past. They’re there to inject a winning atmosphere into a franchise used to losing. And Friday’s win was a step in the right direction.
"We're trying to obviously set a new creed here, a new culture," Garnett added. "And I guess you start with getting the bears and monkeys off your back. So I guess this was a good one to get off."
Pierce scored 19 points overall, but it was his defense against Heat superstar LeBron James that was impressive. According to ESPN Stats & Information, James shot just 2-for-8 from the floor when defended by Pierce, and 9-for-11 against everyone else.
It’s that kind of overall game that Pierce brings to the table that will be of great value to the Nets throughout the season.
Garnett’s style of play can’t be understated, either. On one particular play in the third quarter, Garnett went diving into the stands to retrieve a loose ball, treating the game as if it were a crucial playoff matchup rather than the second game of the season.
Jason Terry, who came along to Brooklyn with Garnett and Pierce from the Boston Celtics, described how infectious Garnett’s style of play can be.
"That was electric," Terry said. "We feed off that. Kevin is our spiritual, emotional leader. When he does that at his age, how can you not go out there and play hard every possession for a guy like that?"
Those are the things that the Nets need to learn. Pierce’s willingness to do whatever it takes on the floor. Garnett throwing his 37-year-old body around for the sake of a loose ball. It’s the example they set that will be the ultimate factor in determining Brooklyn’s fate this season.
It’s way too early to predict anything, but so far, Pierce and Garnett are doing exactly what was wanted when the Nets pulled off the trade this summer. They’ve infused a new attitude into a team that became far too used to losing on a regular basis. They showed their teammates that the Heat can be taken down despite their lofty status. They led by example.
Pierce and Garnett are charged with transforming the culture in Brooklyn. It’s a tall order indeed, but both players know what it’s like to lose. And they know what it’s like to come together as a team and win it all.
On Friday night, the veteran duo shared a lesson with their teammates. And in a season of learning, the Nets showed growth, and that’s a start that could pay dividends in the end.