BOSTON — Forwards Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett played through an emotional return to Boston, scoring six points apiece but getting enough help from their Brooklyn teammates for the Nets to hold off the Celtics 85-79 Sunday night.
Garnett, who started at center and struggled from the floor from his first shot on, came up with a huge steal and took it for a layup with 18 seconds remaining to help seal the win for Brooklyn. It was his only basket of the fourth quarter, matching Pierce’s total in the final period as Brooklyn staved off several late runs by the Celtics.
Forward Andrei Kirilenko scored seven of his 11 points in the fourth quarter and center Andray Blatche finished with 16 points to lead the Nets.
Guards Chris Johnson and Gerald Wallace added 12 points apiece for the Celtics. Forward Brandon Bass had 17 points and point guard Rajon Rondo finished with 13 points, eight assists and eight rebounds for Boston. Rondo, one of the few remaining teammates from the Garnett/Pierce era, met Garnett for a quick hug near midcourt just after the final buzzer with fans cheering despite the loss.
Cornerstones of Boston’s 2008 NBA championship team, Pierce and Garnett were traded to the Nets in the offseason when the Celtics decided it was time to rebuild and dealt the superstar veterans.
Boston fans’ allegiance expanded for the night to the Celtics, plus Pierce and Garnett. Both players were cheered throughout the game like they were still wearing green and part of the franchise they led to the 2008 NBA title.
Pierce and Garnett highlighted the introductions of the starting lineups and the Celtics honored both with separate video tributes during game breaks in the first half. Garnett’s was first, then Pierce received a standing ovation that lasted the duration of the break between the first two quarters.
Pierce’s selection as the 10th overall pick in the 1998 NBA draft started a new foundation that restored the franchise to the top of the NBA. Pierce was a 10-time All-Star with the Celtics and never pushed for a trade out of Boston to a contender even through the lean years.
The second-leading scorer in Celtics history, Pierce waved and saluted the fans while trying unsuccessfully to end the applause and get back to the Nets huddle.
Kirilenko hit a foul shot with 8:42 left in the fourth to give Brooklyn a 68-56 lead, then Boston started a series of runs to keep it within reach until the final minute. Center Kris Humphries and forward Chris Johnson scored back-to-back baskets, then Wallace hit a 3-pointer to pull Boston within 68-63.
Boston’s final push came when Rondo hit a 3-pointer with 1:03 left to play, cutting the Nets lead to 80-77. After a miss by Brooklyn forward Joe Johnson, Boston had another chance before Garnett swiped the ball from Rondo and took it the length of the floor for an uncontested layup.
Boston scored the game’s first eight points and led 17-11 after the first quarter.
Blatche scored seven points during a 16-4 Brooklyn run early in the second quarter.
NOTES: The Celtics welcomed back Pierce and Garnett with separate video tributes during the first half. Pierce, who never played for any other team before the offseason blockbuster trade sent the Celtics captain and Garnett to the Nets, smiled as he watched the overhead video monitor and saluted the fans during a standing ovation that lasted the entire break between the first two quarters. … The surging Nets have 10 of 11 while climbing to second place in the Atlantic Division. … Brooklyn returns home to face the Toronto Raptors on Monday. Boston plays the Knicks in New York on Tuesday.