Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.
TORONTO - If you're busy, no need to read past the first two paragraphs for my take on the Nets' postseason opener yesterday, because Paul Pierce said it all when he yelled to no one in particular after yet another huge basket:
"That's why they brought me here!"
What more do you need to know?
The creaky future Hall of Famer and his even creakier pal Kevin Garnett spent most of Game 1 against the Raptors looking every bit their ages -- 36 and 37, if you're scoring at home.
Then, suddenly, the bright postseason lights came on, and the younger, spryer home team was left with a 94-87 loss at Air Canada Centre and a squandered home-court advantage.
Surprised, Raptors coach Dwane Casey? What do you think? "No, he has been doing it for years," he said of Pierce. "That did not surprise us. He's a Hall of Famer for a reason."
The score was tied at 73 when coach Jason Kidd sent Pierce, Garnett and Deron Williams back into the game with 6:25 remaining, which at the time seemed a tad too late after a lackluster outing for the bench players. But it was right on time.
With the Nets ahead 77-76, Garnett hit a turnaround fadeaway jumper with 3:41 on the clock -- his only field goal of the game.
Then it was Pierce's turn. He made a three-pointer with 2:58 left, ending a streak of 19 straight misses for the Nets beyond the arc. Then he made a driving layup. Then he made a 19-footer.
Then he made a 20-footer that gave the Nets an 88-81 lead with less than a minute left, prompting him to remind the world why he came to Brooklyn.
How many times had Garnett seen that sort of thing before from Pierce? "Countless, man," he said. "I knew that when he took that three, that he had a rhythm. He was classic Truth."
Pierce, whose nickname is "The Truth," scored nine points in the final three minutes after scoring six in the first 45.
"I don't get rattled in the fourth quarters down the stretch in playoff settings," he said. "I've been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine and so I just try to stay calm, bring my calmness to the game and just try to influence the rest of the guys, and I thought we did a great job of that."
Pierce loved every minute of it, even the part where he tried three times to find a fan willing to keep his sweaty headband. The first two times he threw it into the crowd after the game, it was thrown back.
"The third time was a charm," he said.
It remains to be seen whether Pierce can keep this up, but he and Garnett should benefit from the fact that first-round series are notoriously spread out for TV purposes -- with Game 2 Tuesday and Game 3 Friday.
Rest is good. They are "dinosaurs," after all. Or so the Toronto Sun wrote in Saturday's editions, dubbing the series "Raptors Vs. Dinosaurs" in a headline.
Pierce was able to laugh about that after the fact. When someone asked if he ever had played without an electronic shot clock before -- it went on the blink in the third quarter -- he said:
"I don't remember if I've ever played [without one]. Since I'm a dinosaur, it's been so long."
It is highly likely that Pierce and the Nets will not cruise easily past the Raptors, not given the young talent on the other team and the inherently delicate state of old basketball bodies.
But for one day, at least, the Nets got what they paid for last summer when they chose to collect future Hall of Famers for moments precisely like this.