Editor’s Note: Celtic Nation brings you a new feature – Behind Enemy Lines – which will give you a game recap from the opposing camp. The first offering comes from Craig Wolff, from The Star/Ledger:
Landing on the holiday stage meant a special one-day uniform, sneakers with green laces and a national audience looking in on a team that has finally discovered its own cachet.
There were candy canes and silver-wrapped chocolates and dancers costumed like Santa. They didn’t pull out Bing Crosby or Will Ferrell, but it was a ribboned and festive event yesterday afternoon — the Nets’ first Christmas in Brooklyn.
The Boston Celtics brought their own gifts to the Barclays Center — Kevin Garnett’s ever-smooth jumper, Paul Pierce’s court smarts, and the stealth passing game of Rajon Rondo. Twice this season, the Nets, no longer upstarts, had their way with the venerable Celtics, but they have been stumbling around during this shopping season. The Celtics built a 21-point lead early in the second half, and the Nets could not mount a meaningful comeback, losing, 93-76.
Jingle Bells, playing in the arena, sometimes in rap mode, hung in the air, and a noontime start promised everyone a chance to scurry home for Christmas dinner. But the joyousness was suspended when the teams revived some bad feelings set off during a skirmish last month in Boston. In that one, Rondo, coming to the aid of Garnett, tussled with Kris Humphries.
Yesterday, early in the fourth period, the Nets Gerald Wallace grabbed onto Garnett’s jersey to break a fall. A cluster of players exchanged menacing stares, and Garnett would say after the game, “I don’t know why he didn’t let go,” but nothing more developed. A few minutes later, Jared Sullinger of the Celtics came down hard on Wallace under the basket. Those are two big bodies colliding, Sullinger at 6-9 and Wallace at 6-7, but both men thought better of it and walked away from the other. Either way, the game was out of reach for the Nets.
And so, a promising beginning to the season, which had them shoulder to shoulder with the Knicks, has vanished. They have lost nine of their last 12 and a dash of the luster that accompanied their fast start.
As foreboding is the loss of a style they can call their own. No one is filling the high-flying scorer’s role, at least not consistently, and against a struggling Celtics club, the Nets suffered from reckless passes and an inside game that is now out of sorts. They had 20 turnovers, and a number of plays were broken up with timely deflections by the Celtics.
Confidence has turned to self-doubt, said Avery Johnson, the Nets coach. He said he has detected “heads dropping” among his players.
Wallace, an old pro in his 12th season, used the same phrase to describe the confusion that has set in, saying it shows up with the team unable to make adjustments during a game. “We drag our mistakes to the next quarter,” he said.
He waved away suggestions of bad blood between the Nets and Celtics, though with the final buzzer, the squads dispensed with the customary feel-good handshakes and embraces, scooting off to their locker rooms like boxers heading to their corners.
Otherwise, it was all about the Christmas spirit, sort of.
The NBA owns the holiday the way the NFL owns Thanksgiving, and for the Nets, the marquee assignment was a sign of arrival. For the occasion, they brought out a subtly altered jersey, with Brooklyn on the crest in bold black, bordered in white. Nothing Christmasy about that, but for $89.95 at the team shop, it made for a perfect last-minute day-of gift.
Not to be worn again this year, it was as fleeting as a reindeer.
Games on Christmas pull players away from their families, and a noon tipoff requires teams to reset body clocks, hard-wired for a marathon season of night games. Jerry Stackhouse, the team elder at 38, had the odd distinction until yesterday of being the longest tenured current NBA player not to have played on Christmas.
Business being business, Stackhouse saw opportunity for the league and the players to profit from the sale of novel jerseys, as they did at games across the country yesterday. He showed off sneakers that were shipped to him for this game and this game only. They were streaked with red, with a flourish of green laces.
“It helps our brand,” the player said with a cheery smile. “When those licensing checks roll in, we’ll be in line.”