Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce, center, formerly of the Boston...

Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce, center, formerly of the Boston Celtics, salutes the crowd during a tribute to him in the first half. (Jan. 26, 2014) Credit: AP

BOSTON -- Paul Pierce had long been in the building, smiling as he made the rounds. He was headed straight for the Celtics' locker room when Kevin Garnett arrived sporting a laserlike focus and a businesslike scowl.

The day they quietly had been anticipating was here, creating an unmistakable buzz around TD Garden. Technically, they were the bad guys. But given the heart and soul that Pierce and Garnett had poured into their Celtics tenures, the sellout crowd was festive.

So this wasn't like anything Garnett or Pierce had ever experienced before or probably ever will again. Video tributes. Standing ovations. Boisterous chants. Countless shirts and jerseys with the numbers "34" and "5" dotting a visiting arena.

Pierce and Garnett were back in their element Sunday night, again toiling in the city in which they won the 2008 NBA title in their first season together with Ray Allen as the original Big Three.

It was an opportunity for both sides to show their appreciation for each other, and they displayed mutual affection during the 85-79 win over the Celtics that increased the Nets' winning streak to five and upped their record to 10-1 in 2014.

"This is the toughest game I've ever had to play," said Pierce, who had six points and six rebounds and hit a big jumper with 2:38 left that gave the Nets a 78-70 edge. "Tougher than any championship game, any Game 7. This game was just so hard to really focus or concentrate on what was at hand. At the end of the day, we had a game to play, but it was so hard to focus. I saw so many friends, so many people I've known for years.

"It was really tough to get focused today. I'm happy we got it over with and I can go back to playing basketball."

Even the stoic Garnett, whose steal of Rajon Rondo's ill-advised pass and subsequent fast-break layup with 17.3 seconds left helped seal it, had trouble avoiding an emotional display. "Paul and I were joking before the game [about] who was going to tear up and drop a tear," said Garnett, who dined with Pierce and Rondo on Saturday. "I had lumps in my throat, but I kept it under control and I tried to focus as much as I could on the game and not take away from it."

Several classy gestures by the Celtics made that tough, though. They had to pause for extended applause, pregame introductions and video montages.

Garnett initially refused to peek at his, but once he heard himself screaming those two famous words -- "Anything's possible!" -- in his on-court interview after their championship-clinching victory, he couldn't help but raise a clenched right fist and pump it.

"It was just an emotional moment that I just kind of went back and reflected on myself,'' he said. "When we all got together, a lot of people didn't think that the first year we could do what we did, and I think before everyone started getting together making their teams, stacking their teams, I think we were the first to begin that. We had a lot of pressure on us. As I sat back and watched the video, I thought a lot about the fun, how much work was invested in that . . . I had some great times in here, like Paul said, obviously some dismal times. But none of those overshadow the good. It was a great time here in Boston."

Pierce's lengthy, tear-jerking tribute took place between the first and second quarters, and once it was over, he mouthed the words "I love you guys. Thank you." He later said, "It's just like having a big brother with you and going through the journey."

"We've known each other since high school and we have so many stories with each other together. And if it's going to end, if our ride is going to end in Brooklyn, I wouldn't want it to be with nobody else."

More Brooklyn Nets

Newsday LogoCovering LI news as it happensDigital AccessOnly 25¢for 5 months