“It was tough looking over there, seeing the green and me not in it.’’
NEW YORK – Paul Pierce wore that color starting in 1998, when the Celtics drafted him.
He wore it as he became one of the franchise’s most iconic players, helping the franchise win a championship, cementing his legacy, and his jersey will one day hang from TD Garden’s illustrious rafters.
But Tuesday night, in the first season since 1998 that he won’t wear the color that he once said he bled, Pierce wore white and black, with “BROOKLYN” across his chest, as he faced his old team for the first time during a preseason game that his new team won, 82-80, at the Barclays Center.
It was weird, but it was always going to be weird — for Pierce and for the teammates he left behind after being dealt in a blockbuster swap that also sent former Celtics Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry to the Nets in exchange for a cadre of players and first-round draft picks.
“It was a little weird looking over, seeing all those green uniforms. I’m used to lining up in the green and white for so long,” Pierce said after scoring 4 points on 1-of-6 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds in 27 minutes.
And Pierce’s ex-teammates were used to playing alongside him, not against him.
“It was weird at first, but, I mean, it’s to the point now where people just have to get used to it,” said forward Jeff Green, who guarded Pierce early in the game.
Added Courtney Lee, “You think of the Celtics the last 15 years, you think of Paul Pierce. It was definitely different.”
Garnett didn’t play, as Nets coach Jason Kidd sat out the 37-year-old forward to rest on the second night of a back-to-back. The teams play each other again Oct. 23 at TD Garden. It’s unclear if Garnett will play in that game and Pierce said he’s not sure if he will, either. He is sure that it will be emotional whenever it is that he returns to the Garden, though.
“Because you’ve played your entire career there, made so many friends, so [it’s] definitely going to be emotional,” he said. “I don’t know if I’m looking forward to it, because I already know I’m going to shed a tear or two.”
The team Pierce left is drastically different now, with a new coach and several new players. It’s now in the infancy of rebuilding.
“They’ve got a lot of good, young talent,” Pierce said. “I’ve had a chance to watch them a couple times on TV. Obviously you see their big rookie, you see [Jared] Sullinger, he’s taken the next step, I think, he’s finally healthy, and then when they get [Rajon] Rondo back, this team has a bright future.
“Jeff Green, I expect him to emerge and really have a good season, Courtney Lee is comfortable out there. Avery [Bradley], it’s time for him to really step up, so they have some nice pieces to build with.”
Pierce said he’s also spoken to some of the Celtics about their roles.
“Well, I told Jeff he’s the veteran in the locker room now, me and Kevin are not there, he’s the veteran,” Pierce said. “Brandon Bass, I told him he’s a veteran in the locker room now. And I think they’re ready to assume that leadership position. I think they’ve learned well, saw the things we were able to do in Boston, and they’re ready to take over that role.”
Pierce strolled into the visitor’s locker room armed with a smile before the game.
He threw an arm around Phil Lynch, the Celtics’ director of team security, and asked where everyone was, but most were either on the court, in the weight room or elsewhere. At that point, the The game wasn’t scheduled to tip for about an hour. No matter. Pierce had come to greet his former teammates. He planned to do just thatPierce found Bradley, hugged him and congratulated him on the recent birth of his son. Pierce asked what Bradley named him. “Avery,” Bradley said. Pierce liked that. Then Then the 36-year-old forward saw Walter McCarty.
“What up, Coach McCarty?” Pierce said before hugging the new Celtics assistant coach and his former teammate.
Pierce then disappeared into a room opposite the showers and laughter could be heard. Pierce came back out, hugged Bass and a few staff members, greeted a few Boston-based reporters by name, then walked out.
An hour later, Pierce was the first member of the Nets introduced in their starting lineup. Wearing his white No. 34 jersey, he stood at center court just before tipoff and joked and chatted with Celtics players.
Then the officials tossed the ball up, starting the game, which the Celtics had a chance to win after two Lee 3-pointers tied the score at 80 with 1:42 left in the fourth quarter. But Nets guard Chris Johnson made a pair of free throws and Lee missed a potential game winner in the final seconds, handing Boston its fourth preseason loss in five games.
The Celtics will play another preseason game Wednesday against the Raptors in Toronto.
There was a somewhat vintage Pierce moment late in the first half. With seconds remaining, Pierce stood at the top of the key, ball in his hand, the clock winding down, the situation that Celtics fans and players saw him in so often through the last 15 seasons.
Green guarded him, and Pierce used a pick-and-roll and cut to the left side of the floor, where he beat Green for a left-handed layup with 6.2 seconds left. With that, Pierce scored his first points against the franchise for which he scored 24,021, the second-most in the history of the Boston Celtics.
Baxter Holmes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.