BROOKLYN - Let’s go back a few weeks to Game 1 of the Brooklyn Nets’ playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.
After draining a dagger jumper late in the game, Pierce shouted to the crowd in Air Canada Centre what has become his Brooklyn credo in these playoffs:
"That's why they got me here,’’ bellowed Pierce, who along with Kevin Garnett, was acquired last summer from the Boston Celtics. “That's why I'm here. I want the ball. That's what I do."
Turns out Pierce does a heckuva lot more than hit big shots: He takes on the most challenging of defensive assignments.
Pierce matter-of-factly revealed after practice on Sunday that he asked coach Jason Kidd to guard LeBron James in Game 2 of the Nets’ playoff series against the Miami Heat.
It was arguably the most audacious act of leadership Pierce has displayed and he did it with the intent of delivering this message to his teammates:
Do not fear the King. Do not fear the Heat.
“Well, you’ve got to have that type of mental [approach] when you’re going against a juggernaut, when you go against the best,’’ said Pierce. “A lot of series are won on fear factor, or the non-belief. When you have that non-belief then you have no chance.
“What I try to do in this locker room and with my teammates is just try to give them belief. We can beat this team. They’re not unbeatable.
“You’ve got to have that mental [approach] if you’re trying to get over that mountain that you’re trying to climb."
The Nets took a giant step up when they beat the Heat, 104-90, Saturday night in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals in a raucous Barclays Center. Game 4 is Monday night in the basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
A Nets’ win evens the series at 2-2. A Heat win puts the Nets on the brink of elimination. It doesn’t get much better.
Pierce said the Nets must treat every game as if it’s a Game 7 because the two-time world champion Heat understand what’s at stake.
“They’re well seasoned now," Pierce said of Miami. “They know how to win. They’ve won two championships. There’s nothing they haven’t been through.
“So one thing you always hear, and it’s kind of cliché, is ‘Never underestimate the heart of a champion.’ You know that’s what they have under their belts. You know, they’re the team to beat."
Pierce is willing to do whatever is necessary to make that happen, including taking on the best player on the planet.
“I went to J-Kidd in Game 2 and said I want that assignment,’’ said Pierce. “I was guarding Shane [Battier].
“I think I guarded him [James] more than anybody in this gym. I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way.
“I don’t have the offensive mode that I had in the past where I set on having to carry us all the way offensively and then take the best defensive assignment. Now you have to reserve a lot of energy toward trying to defend him. When the time comes for me to score then I’ll do that also."