If LeBron James and the Miami Heat thought that old age and a change of scenery would temper the feelings of future Hall of Fame forwards Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, they can think again. The battle tested duo may have made their way from Boston to Brooklyn, but the general disdain they felt for the Heat while members of the Celtics seems to have followed them to their new locale.
On the surface, Thursday night’s preseason game at the Barclays Center appeared to be just another meaningless exhibition contest in which new players get acclimated with one another and veteran players continue to ready themselves for the grind of the regular season. However, with LeBron in town, his old nemesis couldn’t let him slide by without knowing that a new identity is being forged in Brooklyn.
It happened in the first quarter, as LeBron picked up a loose ball in transition and started barreling towards the hoop like the explosive freak of nature that he is. Pierce for one has seen this particular scene play out dozen of times, and given the minimal stakes of a preseason game I doubt anyone would’ve blamed him if he decided to move off to the side. But Pierce did the opposite, electing to lower his right shoulder and deliver a hit to James that knocked him squarely off course. Message delivered.
Through the years it has been documented that Pierce and KG have little use for James or his antics, and while I’m sure it gave the new Nets some satisfaction to have laid on one LeBron, the playoff-like foul here was sent with a broader audience in mind:
“We want to be a hard, grind-it-out team,” Pierce said. “We want nothing to be easy. That’s what we’re trying to show in the last couple of games, the way our defense has been playing. We’ve given up so few points. That’s the message we want to send.”
The change in culture going on in Brooklyn is one that is being fully embraced and championed by new head coach Jason Kidd. Kidd, who was on the other side of the Knicks-Nets rivalry last season, got to witness first-hand what was a rather soft and emotionless unit. That has all changed with the arrival of KG, a player both revered and despised for his over the top intensity. Garnett was akin to a defensive coordinator during his time in Boston and is quickly becoming a vocal leader for his new team. With him setting the tone, opposing teams should be ready for more hard fouls and an overall edgier level of play when they face the Nets this year.
Thankfully, with the Nets and Heat slated to meet on November 1st we won’t have to wait very long for the first regular season contest between these new rivals. This rivalry might have a short shelf life due to the respective ages of Pierce and Garnett, but as long as they are in uniform they will do everything they can to make life difficult for LeBron, the Heat, and the rest of the NBA.
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