NEW YORK — There were hugs and fist-bumps and friendly chatter scattered here and there. They are on opposite sides now, sure, but Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were still quite cordial.
“Obviously, we wanted to come here and play well, but it will always be a special place in my heart when I face the Green,” Garnett said.
Garnett, Pierce, and the Brooklyn Nets indeed played well, leaving the Barclays Center with a 104-96 win that snapped the Celtics’ three-game winning streak, dropping them to 10-13.
It was just the fourth win in 11 games for the Nets (7-14), who entered the season with title aspirations but so far have been terrible, in part because many key pieces of their $190 million roster have been on the bench with nagging injuries.
But in their first regular-season game against their former team since being dealt to Brooklyn this offseason, Garnett (11 points, 9 rebounds) and Pierce (4 points, 7 rebounds) weren’t huge factors.
Instead, it was another pair of All-Stars who, together, pummeled the Celtics.
All-Star point guard Deron Williams returned after missing 11 of 12 games with a sprained ankle to score a game-high 25 points while dishing out seven assists.
Williams also directed an offense that shot a blistering 56 percent (39 of 70) from the floor.
“I thought he was the biggest difference in the game, though the obvious difference was also [Brook] Lopez’s size,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens.
Being undersized is an issue that the Celtics have been able to overcome in several games, but they had no answer for 7-footer Lopez, who scored 24 points on 10-of-13 shooting.
“We tried to do as much as we could to keep the ball out of his hands and control him on the block, but he’s a great player and an All-Star and he did what he’s supposed to do,” said Gerald Wallace.
Pierce returned after missing four games with a fractured right hand. He wore a glove on that hand and came off the bench for the first time in six years. His 4 points came on free throws.
“Even before they had the players they had come back tonight, I still feel like they were a very good team,” said Celtics guard Avery Bradley, who scored a team-high 22 points.
“Obviously having two of their leaders back, as in Deron Williams and Paul, that definitely helps them out a lot. They played well tonight. All credit to them.”
Said Stevens: “Credit them. Like I said, we weren’t playing the [Brooklyn] Nets that played without D-Will. That is their team and they are a good basketball team. You add [Andrei] Kirilenko to it and it’s scary.” Kirilenko has been out since Nov. 8 with back spasms.
Brandon Bass added 13 points and 11 rebounds for the Celtics. But they were outscored in the paint by 18 points, as Boston’s defense was never able to limit the full-strength Nets.
“They made some tough shots,” said Jordan Crawford, who scored 15. “Of course, we could’ve played better D, but they were motivated.”
Said Jeff Green: “It was kind of an emotional high for them to have everybody back.”
But Wallace saw it another way.
“They got the benefit of the doubt on anything tonight,” he said.
“They came out aggressive and they came out with the will to win and we came out tentative. They were just more aggressive than we were, they played harder than we did at the start of the game, and it showed in the outcome.”
The Nets led, 31-20, at the end of the first quarter, which they closed out on a 14-2 run to seize control of the game.
The Celtics opened the second half on a 13-4 run to tie the score at 60, but the Nets answered with a 25-8 run to take a commanding lead.
The Celtics once again charged back, though it came late in the fourth quarter. A 10-2 run pulled Boston to within 5 with 1:53 left, but the Nets were able to withstand the flurry and hold on.
“We want to fight until the buzzer goes off,” Bradley said. “That’s our motto.”
They did that Tuesday night, the Celtics again playing hard from start to finish.
“We want to bring that to the table every single night,” Bradley said. “We know we aren’t as talented as every other team, but we know that we can work harder than every other team. That’s our thing.”
But the Celtics also have been brutally hard on themselves after losses, as was the case again.
“We played horrible as a team, according to guys in this locker room,” said Jared Sullinger, who scored 15. “We all agree. So it’s not just me making that statement. We all agree that we played bad in the first half and we kinda played better in the second half.
“It’s a learning experience. You know you’re going to have that in the NBA. The beauty of the NBA is we get to focus on the Clippers [Wednesday].”
Ah, the Clippers – and Doc Rivers.
It’ll be part two of reunion week for the Celtics, as they’ll face their former coach, who will make his first return to TD Garden since he left the team to coach the Los Angeles Clippers.