Celtics Head To Brooklyn as Division Leaders

NEW YORK – It wasn’t supposed to be like this. No one – absolutely no one – predicted that we’d be here.

But we are.

Today is Dec. 9, the eve of this season’s first meeting between the Boston Celtics and the team they dealt their superstars to this summer, the Brooklyn Nets. The countdown has been ticking down to this day since Danny Ainge packaged Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to Brooklyn in a seismic NBA trade on July 12.

Talk radio and print media were all over the trade from the moment it went down. Boston was moving on to a new era by flipping aging pieces for younger and more valuable chips. Brooklyn, meanwhile, was assembling a Dream Team consisting of five All-Stars.

Jeff Green defends Paul Pierce

Paul Pierce is expected to play Tuesday night despite fracturing his shooting hand just 10 days ago.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

The Celtics, many predicted, would hang toward the bottom of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference standings. The Nets, meanwhile, would run away with the Atlantic Division crown and challenge for an NBA title.

That was five months ago. Boy, have things changed.

Six weeks into the NBA season, the Atlantic Division standings are basically the exact opposite of what everyone expected. It is the Celtics who sit atop the division, having won nearly double the amount of games than the Nets have.

Boston heads into Tuesday’s matchup with the Nets as one of the hotter teams in the league. The C’s have won three in a row and six of their last eight overall. They just embarrassed the New York Knicks on Sunday at Madison Square Garden with a 41-point victory.

Ironically, the Knicks are the team that just embarrassed the Nets on Thursday. New York clobbered Brooklyn by 30 points as the Nets fell for the ninth time in 11 games, dropping their record to 5-14 on the season.

Brooklyn bounced back with a win on Saturday but that does not disguise its abysmal season thus far. Injuries, failed coaching relationships and missing chemistry have all plagued the Nets this season. They have been the black hole of the NBA.

The Celtics are about to encounter that black hole while mixing in a high level of emotions. This isn’t just a game to these players – it’s a reunion.

Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger played with Garnett but have never played against him, not even in the preseason. Paul Pierce, who says there’s a “good chance” he will play Tuesday night despite a fracturing his right hand 10 days ago, has never played a regular season game against the Celtics.

As Sullinger put it, “It’s a big-time game tomorrow.”

And an important one, at that. Boston is looking to strengthen its unexpected grip on the division and Brooklyn is looking to reverse its downward spiral. The emotions will be there, but both of these teams are concerned with grabbing a critical win.

“Those are great guys over there. They taught me a lot,” Sullinger said of Garnett and Pierce. “But at the same time, once that horn blows and the ball goes up, we’re enemies.”

Sullinger wasn’t the only player who dropped the ‘enemy’ comment. Just a few minutes earlier, Green made a very similar comment while discussing Garnett.

“I enjoyed the time I had with him but he’s an enemy now, and he’ll say the same thing,” Green said. “We’re both trying to win the game and I’m trying to do the best I can to help my team be the victor in that game.”

That’s the mindset the Celtics have taken into every game this season, which has helped to set up an ironic twist for tomorrow’s emotional reunion.

Here we are on Dec. 9, five months after an epic trade that was supposed to cripple Boston while energizing Brooklyn, and it’s the Celtics who are staring down at the Nets in the standings.

It sure wasn’t supposed to be like this, but the Celtics love how things have shaken out thus far.