EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Paul Pierce wanted the challenge of guarding LeBron James and believes the Nets are up to the challenge of dethroning the Heat.
Pierce is trying to lead the Nets with his action and words.
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He went to Jason Kidd before Game 2 of this Eastern Conference semifinal series and told him he wanted to defend James, as he had in so many playoff series when Pierce was with Boston.
Pierce also said the Nets, who beat the Heat, 104-90, in Game 3 on Saturday night, aren't afraid of Miami. He's making sure his teammates share in his belief that Miami is "not unbeatable" and that they can oust the two-time defending champions.
"You've got to have that type of mental [approach] when you're going against a juggernaut, when you go against the best," Pierce said after practice yesterday. "A lot of series are won on fear factor, or the non-belief. When you have that non-belief, then you have no chance.
"What I try to do in this locker room and with my teammates is just try to give them belief. We can beat this team. They're not unbeatable. You've got to have that mental [approach] if you're trying to get over that mountain that you're trying to climb."
The Nets took a step in Game 3 and will try to even the best-of-seven series at 2-2 Monday night. To do that, it will take another strong defensive effort against James, who is averaging a relatively quiet 24 points in this series.
Kidd used at least six Nets on the four-time MVP in Game 1, and Pierce spent most of his time on Shane Battier. But Pierce took the bulk of the responsibilities on James the last two games. James got nine shots at the rim in the first game and 11 combined in the last two.
"He came and talked to me about it," Kidd said. "When a player asks for something, you've got to respect that. We felt that, one, we wanted to try to keep him out of foul trouble. But two, he wanted to do it. And you got to respect that. I went with that idea in Game 2 and we thought it worked pretty well."
Pierce and James have had some memorable playoff duels. That was when Pierce also had to carry his team offensively. He was the 2008 NBA Finals MVP when he led the Celtics to the title and eliminated James and the Cavaliers along the way.
Now Pierce, who is averaging 11.7 points in this series, can focus more on defense and take his shots when they come.
"I think I guarded him more than anybody in this gym," Pierce said. "I know his tendencies a little bit more and I just try to step up in that role and try to lead that way."
The Nets expect James and the Heat to play differently in Game 4 after Saturday night's game. The Heat had its worst defensive performance of the playoffs, allowing the Nets to shoot 53 percent overall and 60 percent from three-point range. James started fast, scoring 16 in the first quarter, but had only 12 the rest of the way.
Pierce understands that the Nets haven't accomplished anything yet. All they did was win a home game. Even if they do it again in Game 4, they will have to win in Miami in Game 5 or Game 7 to reach the Eastern Conference finals.
Pierce said he's trying to keep everyone focused and sharp, and reminding his teammates to play with a sense of urgency all the time now.
"We can't ease into games anymore," he said. "They're too good and they're too experienced. We got to be desperate from here on out. Every game has to be treated like a Game 7.
"We go home [Monday night] and play them in Game 4, it's got to be treated like a Game 7. When we get down there for Game 5, it's got to be treated like a Game 7. We're playing for our playoff lives. We have to be in that desperate mode."