“It was a bit weird,” said Garnett.
You know what’s even more weird?
Watching Pierce come off the bench in back-to-back games for the first time in his career and Garnett on a minutes restriction comparable to a role player.
Role players are not what Brooklyn envisioned when Billy King gave up seemingly half of the Brooklyn Bridge and the shirt off his back to acquire Garnett, Pierce and Jason Terry from Boston.
King dealt former first-round pick MarShon Brooks, veterans Keith Bogans, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, along with Kris Joseph and first-round picks in 2014, 2016, and 2018 with the right to swap another first-round pick in 2017.
Garnett and Pierce are averaging career lows in minutes and field goal percentage while their scoring, rebounding and passing production are not far behind.
Meanwhile, Terry has missed 11 of Brooklyn’s 22 games and has been ineffective when active. He is averaging career-lows in points (5.3), rebounds (1.2) and assists (1.5).
However, nobody will remember the extravagant price Brooklyn paid if it results in the championship management envisioned when the deal was struck.
Banners hang in the rafters forever, after all.
As Garnett said during his introductory press conference, it’s the “only reason” he and Pierce were brought to Brooklyn.
With that championship goal in mind, Pierce should continue to come off the bench for the foreseeable future and Garnett should be on the floor during crunch time.
Against the Celtics on Tuesday, Garnett propelled Brooklyn to victory in crunch time after replacing an ineffective Shaun Livingston with the Nets up 96-91 and 1:53 left.
He rebounded a missed free throw, and on the following offensive sequence rolled to the basket on a pick-and-roll where he was blocked by Brandon Bass. He grabbed the deflection in traffic and went back up immediately, drawing a foul and making 1-of-2 to give Brooklyn a 97-91 lead.
Boston’s Jeff Green missed a jumper, and Garnett soared through the air in traffic to corral the rebound and called timeout after landing on the floor following a hard fall.
Garnett roared loudly, and the crowd at Barclays Center gave him a standing ovation as the 37-year-old proved he still has the heart of a champion, even if it’s for limited spurts.
There’s something to be said for knowing how to close out games. Garnett has been doing it for the past 15 seasons, winning a championship in the process.
To put him in a position to do so, Nets coach Jason Kidd should continue to play Garnett sparingly through the first half, around 10 minutes.
In the second half, Garnett should play roughly three four-minute spurts – the start of the third quarter, across the quarters and closing out the game’s final minutes.
That strategy worked well against Boston and would serve the Nets well going forward.
Pierce is another player who can provide value to the team, albeit in a different capacity than originally intended – off the bench.
“I’m playing my part in this,” he said. “That’s what it is. I’m trying to lead the second team. We’ve developed some chemistry with that unit, so as long as things keep going where we’re winning games, like I said, I’m sacrificing for the good of the team.”
Pierce has become the primary playmaker off the bench, which the unit has desperately lacked all season.
Against the Clippers on Thursday, Pierce displayed his full repertoire with 10 points, seven rebounds and five assists in 26 minutes despite wearing a protective glove over his healing broken hand.
Pierce was able to put pressure on the defense by attacking smaller defenders, driving the paint and finding teammates for open looks while occasionally earning trips to the foul line.
The question isn’t whether Pierce has the talent to carry the second unit, but rather if the 16-year veteran — who previously came off the bench only three times in his career – would be willing to do so on a consistent basis?
Rivers and Jamal Crawford, a former Sixth Man Award winner, think so.
“I don’t think he cares one way or the other,” said Rivers. “Paul’s a ballplayer. He doesn’t care. If I ever asked Paul to come off the bench last year, he would have. Paul just wants to play basketball.”
Pierce stated he’s willing to sacrifice to help the team win, a quality Crawford notes is paramount to become a lethal sixth man.
“I think you have to really be selfless,” said Crawford. “You have to be willing to sacrifice a lot, honestly. And you have to put winning above everything else.”
“He’s a competitor,” said Kidd. “He’s out there playing, he has a glove on to protect him, and he’s doing everything he can in his power to try to help us offensively and defensively. He’s done a wonderful job.”
With Pierce coming off the bench, Brook Lopez, Joe Johnson and Deron Williams can continue to carry the offense while Garnett and Alan Anderson balance the unit on defense with the ability to also score if called upon.
Johnson in particular has found a defined role as the team’s spot-up shooter when he’s not posting up on the wing. He is converting over 40 percent of his 3-point attempts for only the second time in his career to this point.
With Pierce’s scoring prowess, it wouldn’t shock me if he became one of the league’s top sixth men should this become a permanent role.
In the long run, the payoff for both Garnett and Pierce could pay dividends towards the latter part of the season.
Last season, Garnett and Pierce wore out during the playoffs after carrying the Celtics throughout the season and consistently playing around 30 minutes per game.
By making them glorified role players during the season, the Nets are positioning both players and their team for better results when it matters most.
After all, winning the championship is the “only reason” they were brought to Brooklyn for such an extravagant price.