The Brooklyn Nets must've known that their second-round series against the Miami Heat would be an uphill battle. They'd swept the two-time defending champs during the regular season, becoming the first team to do so since 2010, but all four victories were exceedingly close.
Having Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett around, though, was supposed to help. Those two had opposed LeBron James in the playoffs 25 times prior, with the latter owning a slight 13-12 edge. Their fearlessness in the face of James and their experience in clutch situations would, ideally, boost Brooklyn considerably therein.
As ESPNNewYork.com's Ohm Youngmisuk wrote prior to Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals:
While the Nets are quick to dismiss regular-season results, they do enter this best-of-seven series knowing that they won three of their previous meetings with the champs by one point each. The other victory came in double overtime. So they feel they can come through in a tight game against Miami.
Perhaps the Nets would've had Game 1 had it not gotten out of hand in the second half. And, perhaps, Pierce and Garnett would've made some key plays in crunch time had there been any crunch time. Instead, the weary Nets were annihilated by the well-rested Heat on Tuesday at American Airlines Arena, 107-86.
Pierce and Garnett had plenty to do with that—and not in a good way. Pierce chipped in eight points and six rebounds while shooting 3-of-8 from the field. Garnett was held scoreless for the first time in his postseason career, with only four boards, a steal, a turnover and two fouls with which to fill the box score.
Meanwhile, Ray Allen, once the third leg in the Hall of Fame tripod that led the Boston Celtics to the title in 2008, more than doubled the combined scoring output of his former comrades, with 19 points off the bench for Miami.
Unlike Allen, Garnett and Pierce both looked old, which they are; Pierce turned 36 in October, while Garnett will celebrate his 38th birthday later this month. Both looked tired, which they probably were after battling the Toronto Raptors to the bitter end of a seven-game melee. Playing against an athletic Heat team that'd been laying in wait since sweeping the Charlotte Bobcats out of the postseason on April 28 only made Pierce, Garnett and the rest of the Nets look even older and more exhausted by comparison.
Garnett: "They have been waiting on us. They have been resting. They have been hearing that we beat them .. we need to be better & we will."— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) May 7, 2014
Garnett was helpless to slow down Miami's parade to the rim. The Heat amassed a 52-28 advantage in paint points, with James and his compatriots slicing through Brooklyn's soft, zone-like defense like a heated Bushido Blade through a slab of butter.
There's some fault to be found on Pierce's part in that regard as well. James was often his man to check, but Pierce appeared neither strong enough to disrupt LeBron's post-ups nor quick enough to impede his drives.
Then again, it's not as though Garnett and Pierce are even largely to blame for Miami mauling Brooklyn's defense for 56.8 percent shooting from the floor. Garnett played just 16 minutes in Game 1, while Pierce shared the unenviable task of checking James with Joe Johnson, Shaun Livingston, Alan Anderson and Andrei Kirilenko. In truth, Brooklyn's failures were the result of teamwide ineptitude in the face of a refreshed and motivated opponent.
But if the Nets are to make a series of their matchup with the Heat—much less justify their roster's $200-million-plus price tag—they'll need more out of their Boston ex-pats, exhaustion be damned.
Garnett and Pierce were both pivotal to Brooklyn's success against Miami in 2013-14. Garnett turned in a double-double (12 points, 10 rebounds) to go along with three assists and a block in nudging the Nets to a double-overtime win in January. Pierce torched the Heat for 21.3 points, 4.5 rebounds and 2.8 assists while shooting 55.3 percent from the field and 45 percent from three.
Allen, on the other hand, averaged just seven points on 28.6 percent shooting (21.4 percent from three) against his friends-turned-foes.
Clearly, none of those three were in regular-season form. That was predictable enough for Garnett and Pierce, given the effort each expended in upending the Raptors in Toronto on Sunday. Garnett collected 12 points and 11 rebounds in that game, while Pierce preserved the Brooklyn victory with a game-saving block on Kyle Lowry at the buzzer.
That result is well in their rear view now. The Nets' Game 1 whitewashing on South Beach might as well be, too, right along with those four nail-biters against the Heat from the regular season.
Which former Celtics star is more important to the Nets' success?
All Brooklyn can do is turn its full attention toward Game 2 on Thursday and hope that another 48 hours will afford enough time to replenish the near-empty tanks of Garnett and Pierce. Otherwise, Brooklyn's veterans will have plenty of time to rest up before they mull their respective futures in free agency this summer.
Granted, Garnett and Pierce aren't the ones on whose shoulders the Nets' fate ultimately rests. That responsibility belongs largely to Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who scored 17 points apiece in defeat.
But those two can't carry Brooklyn on their own, much less against these battle-tested Heat. The Nets will need more out of their anti-LeBron pairing, in terms of both emotional energy and on-court productivity, to get the job done.
If the Nets didn't know that before, they certainly do now.
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