Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce could not have cared less about recent criticism from LeBron James and Dwyane Wade in regard to ripping Ray Allen after he left Boston last season.
Instead, both wanted to discuss the progress the Nets have made, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The latest example came in an 86-62 exhibition win over the Heat, who were the third straight opponent to shoot under 40 percent.
“That’s going to be our identity,” Pierce said. “It’s a message to the league.”
“We’re talking; we’re communicating,” Garnett said. “We believe in our system. We’re not shying away. We’re not doing things individually on our own without making up stuff.”
Granted it was a preseason game and nobody of significance logged heavy minutes. LeBron James played 28 minutes and scored 16 points but missed eight of 15 shots. Chris Bosh also added 16 in a game that saw Wade and Allen get the night off.
Still there was build-up in the form of the comments made by James and Wade, wondering what the difference is between Allen leaving the Celtics last year and Garnett and Pierce doing the same in joining the Nets.
“The first thing that I thought was like, ‘Wow, Ray got killed for leaving Boston and now these guys are leaving Boston,’” James told reporters after Wednesday’s practice “I think it’s OK. I don’t mind it, but there was a couple guys that basically [criticized] Ray for leaving and everybody else is leaving.”
“Listen, we all know how the world works,” Wade said. “The biggest thing is Ray is happy here. If they’re happy in Brooklyn, I’m going to be happy. We all know how it works. People say things about people when they decide to do something, but then people do the same thing. It’s about putting yourself in the best situation. It’s about doing what’s best for your family.”
Left unsaid were the differences. Allen was a free agent, while Garnett and Pierce were traded by a team looking to usher in a rebuilding plan.
“Tell LeBron [to] worry about Miami,” Garnett said. “He has nothing to do with Celtic business.”
Pierce quizzically responded, “I left Boston?”
Eventually Pierce answered with a general no comment, saying he doesn’t watch TV, read the papers and spends more time with his family than paying attention to others’ comments.
In terms of forming a rivalry based on a preseason game, that’s a tough call. The first quarter represented some of the intensity you might see in the regular season.
The sellout crowd showered James with boos on every touch early on, taking delight when he committed a turnover or missed a free throw.
The game didn’t mean anything. It merely offered a preview of what figures to be one of the league’s top rivalries.
“I don’t even know how to answer that,” Garnett said. “I don’t know. We just played one game. That’s up to you guys [in the media]. Rivalries are usually teams that continuously met in the Finals or in very important games. So I really don’t know how to answer that.”
Still, to even the scales in the rivalry discussion, the Nets will have to find a way to stop James.
“He’s the best on the planet, right now,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “I don’t know what you can do — just hope he misses.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.