Good Morning
Good Morning
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Nets have to cash in on last summer's blockbuster deal

New Nets players Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and

New Nets players Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry hold up their new uniforms at a press conference at the Barclays Center. (July 18, 2013) Credit: Patrick E. McCarthy

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - It was a promise made on a steamy day last July, when the Nets formally introduced Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce -- Hall of Famers of the future alighting in Brooklyn of the present.

Nine months later, it is time to deliver, on the same Barclays Center floor where the deal was publicly consummated.

Even more than their crosstown rivals in Manhattan, the Nets invested money and draft picks in winning now, and that urgency surely will be felt both on the court and in the stands when the playoffs return to Brooklyn Friday night.

Yes, the Nets played four postseason games there last spring, memorably losing to the Bulls in Game 7 of a first-round series that convinced the team's leadership that a personality transplant was in order.

That is where coach Jason Kidd, Garnett, Pierce and their since-departed Celtics pal Jason Terry were to come in, and it worked (sort of) during the regular season -- at least after Jan. 1.

But all that was mere prelude. Proving it to an evolving fan base in a still-new arena in a mostly indifferent market requires winning in the playoffs.

Adding to the opportunity (and pressure) is that the Knicks, whose average local TV rating roughly tripled the Nets' this season, have left New York's NBA stage wide open for the men in black and white.

Even the Raptors and their fans have helped by raising the emotional stakes, notably general manager Masai Ujiri's vulgar barb aimed at Brooklyn before Game 1, an X-factor several Nets were asked about after practice Thursday.

Former Raptor Alan Anderson called it "chitchat'' and figured Nets fans would be ready after "waiting for this moment, just like we are."

Does he anticipate a rowdier crowd than the ones in Toronto? "They're Brooklyn, so they're more rowdy, yeah, definitely," he said. "They're way more rowdy, man. You're going to see it's New Yorkers -- Brooklyn New Yorkers.

"They're going to think they're in the game, like they're playing, so we're going to have some fun."

Garnett was booed early and often in Toronto -- when he wasn't being targeted with a vulgar chant that prominently included his initials. He said he is "very eager" to see the kind of reception Brooklyn fans offer the Raptors.

But that sort of thing mostly is fodder for talk radio and tabloid back pages. All that really matters is wins and losses, and if the Nets don't secure two of the former this weekend, they will fumble the home-court edge.

And even if they win Games 3 and 4 and close out the series next week, they have a long way to go to truly to make a dent in the public consciousness. Beat the Heat next, and then we can talk more seriously about Brooklyn being in the house.

If that sounds harsh for a team that is the sixth playoff seed in an awful conference, well, this is the business the Nets have chosen, and this is the city they have chosen to conduct it in.

It's not easy. Tuesday night's loss to the Raptors was the second-highest-rated Nets game ever shown on the YES Network -- and less than half as highly rated as that night's regular-season Yankees-Red Sox game.

"They're hungry for it," Pierce said of Nets fans. "They've been watching playoffs for about a week now. Now they get a chance to come into our own building and enjoy it and really try to give us a lift."

"Hungry" is the word, but it goes back further than a week -- at least to Game 7 last year, and for some to 1976, when they won the second of their two ABA titles.

The Nets are 0-0 at Barclays Center in the postseason since the big news conference last summer. Everyone was properly introduced that day and has had plenty of time to get to know one another. Now it's time to win.

New York Sports