A Nets turnaround starts with KG and Pierce

For KG and Pierce, this season has yet to come into focus. Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY Sports

NEW YORK -- Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett signed off on a trade to the Brooklyn Nets with visions of winning another NBA title.

They were brought in to provide the kind of valuable championship leadership, experience and toughness the Nets so desperately needed. Nobody expected them to come in and carry matters offensively. They aren't supposed to do any major heavy lifting until the playoffs.

But that's changed because no one saw a start like this coming. The Nets lost their fifth straight game on Sunday to Detroit with Pierce and Garnett watching from the bench for nearly eight minutes in the fourth as Jason Kidd went with his subs for more energy and scoring.

Pierce and Garnett were supposed to rest during fourth-quarter blowout wins -- not be fourth-quarter bystanders to double-digit losses while Kidd turned to reserves like Alan Anderson, Tyshawn Taylor, Tornike Shengelia, rookie Mason Plumlee and Mirza Teletovic for a better shot at winning.

The idea of a bunch of journeymen and D-League guys playing ahead of Pierce and Garnett in the fourth quarter of a game the Nets desperately needed was an unfathomable thought just a month ago.

“I think everybody in here is embarrassed,” Garnett said of hearing boos from the home crowd. “You definitely don’t want that at home.”

Make no mistake, the Nets’ current mess is so much bigger than just Pierce and Garnett, who are supposed to be the final two complementary pieces to a championship puzzle, not the two main pillars. The Nets have been rocked by injuries and Kidd just isn’t going to win a lot of games with Brook Lopez (ankle), Deron Williams (ankle), Andrei Kirilenko (back) and Jason Terry (knee) all injured.

There is zero continuity thanks to injuries, minutes restrictions and players and coaches learning one another on the fly. Even after Lopez and Williams make it back to full strength, the Nets (3-10) are going to need time to finally mesh.

Until then, the Nets need Pierce and Garnett to somehow find a way to conjure whatever they have left in their tanks and dig them out of this hole that feels more like a growing abyss with each loss.

The two proud former Celtics have looked ancient at times this season. But their presence and leadership mean everything to a Nets team desperately searching for a life vest to keep from drowning amid painful injuries and frustrating growing pains.

“Well obviously we have to play better than we have been playing -- me and him,” Pierce said. “It is a tough situation when your two stars (Lopez and Williams) and four of your top eight players are out ... Not only me and Kevin, but everybody’s role changes across the board until our other guys can come [back].”

"[But] it is not about saying, it is about doing," Pierce later added about the Nets constantly talking about how to fix their on-court problems. "Obviously we say it, but our actions have to speak louder than words now."

Pierce tied his season-high with 19 points but he could have had more as he continued to miss open shots he has made a living off making. Pierce has shot 30.6 percent in his last eight games and his All-Star confidence just isn’t there right now.

Like Pierce, Garnett has been getting good looks but he had just four points and nine rebounds in 22 minutes against Detroit. So far, Garnett is shooting 34.9 percent and averaging six points and nearly eight rebounds in 22.5 minutes a night. Garnett has to do more than shoot 2-for-9 like he did on Sunday even if he isn’t getting enough minutes to develop a rhythm.

The more disturbing part of Garnett’s slow start is the team’s defensive struggles, since he’s the defense’s quarterback.

“I wouldn’t say I am in the best offensive groove, whatever,” Garnett said. “I don’t really care. To be honest, I am not a primary (offensive option) here. Defensively (is) where I am kind of frustrated with myself and [not] being better at that.”

“I think the primary [goal] is stopping and getting stops and laying our hat on that,” Garnett added. “We can’t even do that and we got to figure that out because that is who we are trying to be.”

The Nets keep letting games slip away from them in the third quarter -- they were outscored by Detroit 34-15 in the third -- and they can’t muster enough stops or make timely shots in the fourth.

Kidd opted to go with subs at the start of the fourth for a spark. That group fell behind by as much as 16 but Kidd inserted Johnson and Shaun Livingston in for Shengelia and Taylor and the Nets got within eight.

Pierce and Garnett finally went back in with four minutes left and Johnson (34 points) drilled a three to pull the Nets within 96-91 with 3:19 left. But they never got any closer.

“They deserved to play,” said Kidd, who is searching for anything that will help snap the Nets’ slump. “I should have let them play the [rest of the] game or the whole quarter.”

It’s still early and nobody is running away with the sorry Atlantic Division right now. Derrick Rose’s injury also helps the Nets.

There aren’t a lot of teams that can survive losing a tandem like Lopez and Williams for a stretch. But there aren’t a lot of teams that have a tandem like Garnett and Pierce to turn to like the Nets do in that case.

“We are doing [things] on the fly,” Pierce explained of the slow start due to the injuries. “But we have to be better. End of the story.”

The first chapter of Pierce and Garnett’s Nets novel has read more like a Brooklyn horror story. But they can change the narrative.

“Tough times right now,” Garnett said. “But you know what? I don’t believe in feeling sorry for yourself. I believe in working your ass off, trying to work your way out of the hole in which you made and nothing less than that.”