These familiar refrains were heard across the NBA after the Brooklyn Nets’ dismal start to the 2013-14 season. Expected at the start of the preseason to be Eastern Conference contenders, the Nets stumbled out of the gate to a putrid 9-19 record.
The Nets’ prized offseason additions were supposed to put the team over the top; instead, they were a part of the Nets’ problems early on.
Garnett struggled to find his jump shot, shooting a career-worst from the field throughout the first two months of the season while looking a step slow on defense. Pierce was a mess on the offensive end, a shell of his former Celtic self, as he battled through a variety of injuries that limited his production.
The Nets' season was almost universally declared a disaster, and Pierce and Garnett were singled out as lost causes during the swansong of their careers.
Long-time Celtics observers, however, refused to pull the plug on the future Hall of Famers. They had seen this script before with Pierce and Garnett.
Many NBA fans gave up on both veterans, but like clockwork, Pierce and Garnett jump-started a team turnaround in the second half of the season.
It happened in the 2011-12 season, too.
The Celtics were 15-17 at the All-Star Break, and the end of the Big Three era appeared to be approaching its close. Then, Pierce and Garnett shifted gears. The childhood friends carried the Celtics to a No. 4 seed in the East and a spirited run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals before bowing out to the eventual champions.
Pierce and Garnett were Boston’s top two scorers and rebounders during the surprise run.
Last season, the Celtics were a dismal 20-23 when All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo went down with a torn right ACL. Once again, fans and critics wondered aloud whether the Celtics would even be capable of making the postseason.
Instead, Pierce averaged 18.3 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and 6.1 assists per game over the final three months of the season, despite playing with a pinched nerve in his neck. Garnett averaged nearly a double-double over that same stretch, and the duo carried Boston to a 21-17 finish and a postseason berth.
Fast-forward to this season, and wouldn’t you know it, the Nets have turned things around, overcoming a season-ending injury to Brook Lopez. Brooklyn has won nine of their last 10 games, including wins over Oklahoma City, Golden State and Miami.
Just like we saw in Boston, a couple of familiar faces have been at the forefront of the resurgence.
Garnett has found his shooting stroke yet again, posting 67 percent shooting from the field during January, while averaging a productive 8.6 points and 7.1 rebounds in just 23 minutes per contest. His work on the other end of the floor has been even more important in stabilizing Brooklyn’s defense.
Garnett has regained his throne as one of the top team defenders in the league, posting a team-best 92.8 defensive rating over the past two months. The effort has propelled Brooklyn to a top eight team in defensive efficiency since December 1, serving as a propellant for their rise in the standings.
Meanwhile, Pierce has overcome a painful injury to his hand and found his rhythm again. Despite a reduced role within Brooklyn’s offense, he’s giving the team whatever it needs most nights, averaging 13.8 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists per night over his last 20 games.
The turnaround hasn’t been shocking to the players’ former teammates in Boston.
“It’s kind of what happened our last two years here,” Brandon Bass, a power forward for the Celtics, explained. “They are Hall of Famers. You might count them out early, but down the stretch, you can always can count on those veteran guys, they know when to turn it on.”
Jared Sullinger, a center for the Celtics, told Bleacher Report that Pierce and Garnett have earned their Hall of Famer titles.
“You are not a Hall of Famer for nothing,” he said. “Paul’s still got it, he shows it all the time. Ticket still has it. They know what it takes to win, and they got the grit, grind and the youth to do it.”
Former long-time teammate Kendrick Perkins saw the resurgence firsthand in Oklahoma City last month.
“I think we got them going. They came and beat us in Oklahoma City, and ever since then they’ve won nine of their last 10 games. It doesn’t surprise me," he said of Pierce and Garnett leading the turnaround. "One thing I know about KG and Paul is that they are great leaders. Every time they step on the court, they are going to bring it.”
Celtics legend Tommy Heinsohn has watched both players over their entire careers and sees what both guys have helped instill in Brooklyn from their Boston days.
“I think they brought a winning ethic with them," he said. "It’s something that nobody on that team had before this year, except for Jason Kidd. They may not play the full minutes they used to play, but I think they have got their message across, and they are still pretty good contributors.
Despite the deep hole into which the Nets dug themselves, they are now just two-and-a-half games out of the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
“They will be dangerous in the playoffs,” Perkins declared.
Rondo has been through countless battles playing alongside both guys. The point guard was at a loss when reflecting upon how his former teammates keep up their stellar play despite their advanced age.
“They are competitors," he said. "It starts with them in practice. They were not only great teammates on the court but great friends off the court as well. I don’t know how they do it. Lately, those guys always find a way to win."
With Garnett and Pierce leading the helm, it’s important for NBA fans to take note. Underestimating this duo and their team yet again this year was a premature mistake.
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