MIAMI — Paul Pierce insists it’s not personal. Just professional.
As the Nets get set to meet the Heat in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference first-round series Tuesday night, Pierce and buddy Kevin Garnett are about to see that familiar foe they’ve gone toe-to-toe with in the postseason: LeBron James. Sounds like the basketball court is about the only place Pierce ever sees James, too.
Pierce said he doesn’t have any real kinship with James away from the hardwood — “I really don’t have a relationship with anybody besides my teammates” — and it stems mostly from the competitiveness that burns to be a champion. That’s just him.
“I think it’s more of a basketball thing,” Pierce said before the Nets’ shootaround at AmericanAirlines Arena. “When you are aiming for the same prize and only one of you can get it, it’s like that. It has nothing to do with anything off the court.”
During their days with the Celtics, Pierce and Garnett matched up against James and the Heat 25 times, with Miami holding a 13-12 edge. The Nets’ duo is one of the few tandems that’s had success against King James, Dwayne Wade & Co. in the playoffs and Garnett couldn’t pinpoint any particular reason why that’s the case.
“I don’t know,” Garnett said. “I wasn’t even aware of that. I don’t know. We've always come in and we’re competitors first. A lot of times when you watch competitors and them play LeBron, they definitely respect the man and we definitely respect everything he’s done. But obviously the level is raised and everybody’s play is raised with that level.
“You know what you are getting when you play LB when you play D-Wade. They’ve got a lot of experience, a lot of championship guys on their team. And that’s just going to raise the level of play. That’s what it is.”
On Monday, Wade cracked that he thought the Heat “buried” Pierce and Garnett when they took down the Celtics in seven games on the way to winning that first crown of the Heat’s Big Three era.
Erik Spoelstra laughed Tuesday when Wade’s comments were mentioned, suggesting Pierce and Garnett weren’t exactly about to fade off into the sunset. The Heat coach seemed amused at the premise they’d never meet again simply because Miami got past them previously in 2011-12 en route to claiming their initial Larry O’Brien Trophy with the trio of James, Wade and Chris Bosh.
"They don’t ever go away,” Spoelstra said. “Seriously, look up the storylines. … The last time we played those two guys when they were in the green and in playoffs. Those were the same storylines. If anyone forgot, that series went seven.”
Yeah, but they got traded to the Nets and this is a different team, isn't it?
“They’re on their team," Spoelstra said. "With us and those two guys, they may be wearing black and silver but there’s green underneath somewhere.”
Really, it’s about a mentality instilled in Pierce that’s never changed, no matter the uniform. He’s supremely confident in his ability and it’s something he’s brought to the Nets, refusing even to buy into the actuality of Brooklyn not being favored in a series against the two-time defending champs.
“I really don’t even think about the pressure regardless of whose side it’s on,” Pierce said. “I just think pressure comes from within yourself. I’m out here to play a game. I feel like our goals are what’s ahead of us and that’s what my eyes are set on, the goal. I always feel like I’ve never been an underdog. I feel like every situation I’ve been in, every series I’ve been in, we’re supposed to win."