Prep for Emotional Night when C's Host Nets

WALTHAM, Mass. – It isn’t just a game anymore when the Celtics and the Nets meet. The fact that Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett are donning black, not green, takes this Atlantic Division matchup to a level it has never seen before.

Boston and Brooklyn faced off twice during the preseason and again on Dec. 10 at the Barclays Center for their first matchup of the regular season. All three of those games were competitive, but they were marked by a strange sensation as Pierce and Garnett sat on the opposite sideline from the Celtics.

Jared Sullinger drives between Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce

The Celtics have faced off against KG, Paul Pierce and the Nets, but Sunday's game will be different than those of the past.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images

Even Pierce found it odd, admitting back in October, “It was a little weird looking over there and seeing all the green uniforms.”

Those first few meetings were weird. This next one will be downright emotional.

The Celtics and the Nets will tip off at 6:30 p.m. Sunday night at TD Garden, marking the first time in which Pierce will ever be in the Garden as a visitor and the first time in which Garnett dons a road uniform in Boston since March 4, 2007.

Pierce played in Boston for 15 years, through both tough times and great times. Garnett helped to restore the magic around this franchise that hadn’t existed since the early 1990s.

These guys changed the course of Celtics history, and as Garnett pointed out on Friday, that fact will never be forgotten.

“Some things last forever, man,” he said. “I’m happy to say that I’m part of that era.”

As far as Pierce and KG’s placement in Boston’s lore, Garnett simply said, “We’re embedded in it.

That’s all you need to know to understand why the Garden will be filled with emotions on Sunday.

The Celtics have already played against Pierce and Garnett, but not in this building. Not in front of these fans. Not beneath the banner they helped to raise. The fact that Pierce and KG will be an opponent in the Garden changes everything.

“For Paul and KG, I think it’s going to be something crazy,” said Brandon Bass, who played two seasons in Boston with both Pierce and Garnett. “It’s going to be emotional, I think, for the fans and for them.”

If history serves as any indication, emotions are likely to spew over at two specific moments. The Celtics treat their most beloved former players like royalty during their first game back at the Garden. The players receive a tear-jerking video tribute that draws an incredible response from the Celtics faithful.

Prepare for something like this, on steroids, happening on Sunday. Twice.

These moments always arrive during a timeout. The Celtics have gone through two of them this season. The first was during their home opener, when Bill Russell was honored on the day Boston dedicated a statue to him, and the other occurred on Dec. 11, when Doc Rivers returned to Boston as the head coach of the Clippers.

Brad Stevens had a specific plan of attack during both of those tributes. He wanted to coach his players, but more importantly, he wanted his entire team to enjoy what was taking place. He plans on doing the same thing on Sunday.

“We’ll get into the huddle and out of the huddle pretty quickly so that [the team] can appropriately honor those guys,” Stevens said on Saturday, “and I think that’s what you have to do.

“There are moments that I think are big – and I think we all get caught up in a game – but there are bigger things than the game itself.”

Pierce and Garnett’s tributes will certainly qualify as such. These moments will allow everyone in the building to say ‘thank you’ to Pierce and Garnett for the immeasurable impact they have made on everyone they touched during their time in this city.

“I owe a lot to those guys. My game wouldn’t be the same right now if I didn’t cross paths with those guys,” said Jeff Green. “Of course I’m going to show my respect and pay respect to one of the greatest small forwards to play this game and one of the greatest power forwards to play this game.”

While Green discussed the impact those two players made on him, Rajon Rondo spoke about the effect Pierce and KG made on the culture of the Celtics organization.

“The blueprint, really,” Rondo stated. “What a professional is. How to get it done. Getting your work in every day. Leading by example. Just great role models.”

Those are the words of Boston’s new captain. Rondo was given the title on Jan. 17 before his first game of the season. He became the first Celtics player since Pierce to be given the honor.

Now, on national television, the new captain will face off against the old captain and Garnett in the NBA’s most electric arena.

This will be a heck of a game, and this will be incredibly emotional.