Brooklyn Embraces Pierce in Win Over Toronto

By Lenn Robbins | @lennrobbins

BROOKLYN - Truth be told, The Truth wasn’t popping Cristal and lighting up Macanudos when he first learned of the trade that brought him from Boston to Brooklyn.

You can’t blame Paul Pierce.

In an era when a lot of athletes have about as much allegiance to a team as a 6-year-old has for his latest Lego, Pierce put down roots in Boston that grew into an NBA championship.

After the Nets lost at the Celtics Friday night, Pierce, a free agent after the season, said he would consider returning to Boston to play or work in the front office.

He was the last Nets player to the team bus because he was signing autographs and posing for pictures with every kid that had a shamrock on his shirt.

So it’s fair to ask, Is Pierce a Brooklyn Net?

The answer came Monday night in a raucous, sold-out Barclays Center. The Nets beat the Toronto Raptors, 101-97, to move within three games of the Atlantic Division lead and Pierce shouldered the load, literally.

Coach Jason Kidd didn’t think Pierce would be in the lineup. He left Sunday night’s win over Sacramento just 1:13 into the game after suffering a stinger in his right shoulder for the second straight game.

The black Kineseo tape, which helps to alleviate inflammation, ran down the right side of his neck under his white No.34 jersey. The grimace on his face spoke to the discomfort he felt.

But Pierce knew what the game meant, knew that even if there is some green still coursing through his veins, he came to Brooklyn to win a championship. Monday night was the first time since the All-Star break that the Nets found themselves in a playoff-like game at home.

So there was Pierce, surprising Kidd, who didn’t think he’d have his 36-year-old power forward.

“I’m in,’’ Pierce told Kidd on Monday when they got to Barclays Center.

There was Pierce before the game, telling his teammates, “If we lose this game, we have no chance to win the division.’’

There was Pierce, after draining the game-deciding 3 with 1:14 left, exhorting the crowd, which rose to its feet, all 17,351 recognizing that the playoffs had arrived a month early.

There was Pierce, standing at the free throw line with 4.7 seconds left, being serenaded by a cheer of, "Paul Pierce! Paul Pierce!"

So let the record show that just before the clock struck 10 p.m. on Monday night, Paul Anthony Pierce had secured his place in Brooklyn lore and Nets fans had embraced him as one of their own.

“I knew the implications of this game,” Pierce said about why he opted to play. “Maybe if it was a different type of game, who knows?

“This was one of our biggest games of the year, a division rival, a lot on the line tonight so you can always [include] me in on those kinds of nights.”

Oh, it was a night to remember in the basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues, a night when emotions seesawed.

Kevin Garnett was scratched just minutes before tip-off with back spasms. KG had missed the previous five games but was in the starting lineup until the last minute.

The Nets were stunned. They fell behind by 12 points.

Andrei Kirilenko, who suffered a sprained right ankle on Sunday night against the Kings, also was out. But the crowd was in. All in.

They sliced the 12-point deficit to one, 51-50, at halftime. They opened a 13-point lead with a 14-0 run, during which Joe Johnson and Deron Williams each knocked down two 3’s

“I thought the crowd was great tonight,’’ said Williams. “It felt like a playoff game.’’

After missing 26 of 30 3’s in a loss at Boston Friday night, the Nets felt right at home, knocking down 11 of 20 from behind the arc. Brooklyn Snipers!

The win lifts the Nets to 32-30 and slices their deficit in the Atlantic Division to three games. The Raptors (35-27) and Nets have split the season series 2-2.

“It was a huge game, knowing we still have a chance to win the division, move up as a seed and you never know, this could be a team we play in the first round,’’ said Pierce.

Regardless of who the Nets play, Pierce will be there. Brooklyn has a way of growing a guy.

Nets Central

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