Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce will complete part two of their reunion with the recent past Thursday night when they face Doc Rivers and the Clippers.
Both players were injured when the Nets dropped a 110-103 decision in Los Angeles last month.
Still, it seems that emotions will be high, especially after both completed the first part by winning their first meeting with the Celtics on Tuesday night.
“That’s the guy they won a championship with,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “They have a lot of respect for [him]. He’s a very good coach. There will probably be some emotion. Probably being in a different uniform takes a little bit away, but still the tie of being able to win that championship and play for a good coach like that.”
Tuesday night had a different feel to it since Rajon Rondo, Jared Sullinger, Avery Bradley and Jeff Green are the only current Celtics Garnett and Pierce played with. Thursday will raise the emotion since the man on the visiting bench will be someone who led them to a title in 2008 and helped them come within a game of another championship two years later.
Garnett said facing the Celtics wasn’t that emotional since Rivers was no longer coaching them. He didn’t talk about any possible emotions after Wednesday’s practice and neither did Pierce.
“Because [our old coach] Doc Rivers isn’t over there, it’s probably a little less emotional,” Garnett said Tuesday night. “You don’t see Danny Ainge sitting on the side, you don’t see Paul Pierce over there, Ray Allen, Eddie House. I see Rajon Rondo over there, which makes it a little more emotional at times. Those are the solid guys I went to battle with.”
Pierce, Garnett and Rivers went to battle in 95 playoff games in a run that ended in Game 6 last May against the Knicks. There was talk of the duo joining Rivers in Los Angeles, with Garnett getting dealt there and Pierce joining the team after being bought out in Boston, but ongoing negotiations and frequent leaks to the media prevented that from happening and ultimately put the Nets in position to make the deal.
If there’s one person on the Nets who can relate to some of the feelings Garnett and Pierce are going through, it is Joe Johnson. Johnson has the same esteem for Mike D’Antoni and Mike Woodson that Garnett and Pierce have for Rivers.
D’Antoni coached Johnson during the 2004-05 season in Phoenix and in the seven seconds or less up-tempo system, Johnson averaged a career-high 17.1 points. That helped Johnson earn a $70 million contract with Atlanta in July 2005 and under Woodson, he thrived even more by averaging over 20 points in every season under him.
“Nah, it’s not strange,” Johnson said. “Man, it’s like an old friend that you haven’t seen in a while and you look forward to seeing him, just dapping him up, because for a lot of guys, especially me, my career basically started with D’Antoni and then when I got to Atlanta with Mike Woodson you know then that’s when I turned into an All Star.
“Those two guys I’ll never forget them. They’ll always be great friends of mine. I can kind of understand what K.G. and Paul are gonna face tomorrow when they see Doc.”
Williams: State of the East made it easier to sit
Beyond Indiana and Miami, the combined record of the other 13 Eastern Conference teams stood at 113-183 through Tuesday.
That made it easier for Deron Williams to proceed with more caution on his sprained left ankle than he might normally, especially since his right ankle had not fully recovered from the injury that left him in a walking boot in September and limited him to 11 preseason minutes.
“That’s the reason I wasn’t really rushed to get back,” Williams said. “I see we’re struggling but then you see the East; you win three, four games and you’re back in it. That’s why I was kind of able to sit back and take my time.”
Without Williams, the Nets won three of nine games. He scored 25 points Tuesday to improve their record to 7-14, just two games back of eighth-place Chicago.
Besides the state of the East, Williams’s teammates helped dim the disappointment of sitting out.
“It’s tough, but all of my teammates were telling me to take my time,” Williams said. “They know me playing healthy is a lot better than me playing at 70 percent. So, like I said, I just wanted to try to get as healthy as possible. There’s no way to get back to 100 percent if you’re not on the court and playing, and so that comes with games and reps, so I just wanted to get back in the best shape and be as healthy as possible before I came back.”
Williams seemed to exceed expectations Tuesday but there was a noticeable difference in point guard play after nearly three weeks of Shaun Livingston and Tyshawn Taylor getting starting minutes at the position.
“It makes the defense shrink and it opens up the 3-point line,” Johnson said. “We got some pretty good 3-point shooters and [when] we got a guy like Deron penetrating and making the game easy for us then I think it’s easy for everybody.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.