As the Nets finished their warm ups, Kevin Garnett soaked in the moment of his first game in front of his newest fans as he jumped around in anticipation the way you might see a boxer before entering the ring.
It was only a preseason game, a time reserved for fine tuning, but it was evident Garnett was excited to reach the court at the Barclays Center for the first time since joining the Nets.
Since the real fight doesn’t start until Oct. 30 in Cleveland, consider the 11 minutes Garnett appeared for as an undercard to the main event and one of the only highlights from Saturday’s 99-88 loss to the Pistons.
They were a strong preview of what fans could see once the regular season begins. Garnett scored eight points, made his first four shots and, perhaps more importantly, facilitated the ball movement on many possessions.
“It felt like the first day of school to be honest,” Garnett said. “I was super excited, [and] just glad to be here. Paul [Pierce] can probably concur, but it’s a good energy. You can tell the city and the community has embraced us and we’re just trying to give that back with the hard play and effort.”
“We’ve been talking about being unselfish,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “You saw that with the core out there early in the game. We had multiple touches. We feel in this league if you can do that, you’ll have some success.”
Kidd pointed out that the defense will be where the Nets hang their hat and there was little for him to enjoy after watching his team allow 50 points in the paint on 25-of-43 shooting.
Garnett also talked about defense but was quick to point out where the Nets are on the calendar.
“What everybody has to understand is we’re still a work in progress,” Garnett said. “I thought we did a lot of good things tonight, but the first thing Jason said when we came in was to protect our paint. It’s a great game for us to learn from but we’ll get better. I think it’s a great tape for us to watch tomorrow.”
Before the Nets allowed the Pistons to pull away, Garnett treated fans to a versatile shooting display.
Garnett’s first points of the night came 87 seconds in when he converted a fast-break layup after Pierce rebounded an errant dunk attempt by Andre Drummond. His second basket of the night was an 18-foot jumper off a Pierce pass, the third basket was a 15-footer from the left side of the court and his fourth basket was a nifty looking eight-foot fade away jumper early in the second quarter.
Garnett and the rest of the starters getting limited minutes was part of the prescribed plan, especially with three games in four days coming up next week. The rest of the plan was devoted to looking for improved interior defense and more time for the second unit.
The high-post defense is likely something the Nets will work on Sunday after getting torched inside. On three consecutive possessions early in the third quarter, Josh Smith, Tony Mitchell and Greg Monroe easily dunked.
“I’m not really worried about our offense,” Pierce said. “We want to become a defensive team. We want to make that our identity so when you give the points in the paint like we did tonight, you give up the dunks, and we definitely took a step back.”
Those were six of the 50 points in the paint the Nets allowed, an increase of four from Tuesday’s preseason opener in Washington.
“It’s the second game,” Garnett said. “Not everything is going to be perfect and I think it’s a great game we can learn from.”
“We’ve got to work on protecting the paint,” Kidd said. “And we didn’t do that.”
The other problem involved a sore right ankle to Tyshawn Taylor that saw him sit out the second half. Taylor said it was pretty sore and was in a walking boot after the game, but said he would have continued if the coaching staff did not pull him.
That left Shaun Livingston as the only remaining healthy point guard in the rotation but when he came out the Nets had a lineup of training camp invitees Gary Forbes, Marko Jaric and Chris Johnson along with regulars Reggie Evans and Mirza Teletovic.
The Nets played without Deron Williams, who continues to recover from a sprained right ankle. The veteran spent about 25 minutes before the game working on various shooting drills with assistant coach John Welsh.
Williams seemed to be moving decently, though Kidd conceded that while he expects the point guard to play on opening night, it might not necessarily be with him at 100 percent.
“I didn’t know he was down,” Kidd said. “I don’t go on if. Right now we’re playing with the guys that are dressed and he’s a day-to-day situation. If he’s ready to go, we’ll play but we’ll just take it one day at a time.
“This is going to be a question that we’re probably going to have to deal with every day until he does get the green light to go,” Kidd said. “But we’re not rushing him. So if we have to start the season with him still trying to get better, I think we all feel comfortable. But we would feel a little bit more comfortable if he was starting.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.