Rondo was hurt in the third quarter Wednesday night in a home victory over Utah. Without the NBA leader in assists, averaging 12.6, coach Doc Rivers said the playbook would be reduced because Barbosa didn't fully know the offense yet.
But the speedy Brazilian created for himself just fine, blowing by defenders for layups though finishing with just two assists.
Avery Johnson said the Nets needed a breakthrough against a quality opponent such as Boston and was interested to see how far his team had come since the Celtics smashed them 115-85 here in the preseason, a night he felt the longtime Atlantic Division rulers were trying to send a message to his team.
The Nets have definitely closed the gap.
They had led by 20 or more in their past three home games and opened a 13-point cushion early in the third quarter of this one.
But Pierce, who had a quiet six-point first half, suddenly got going midway through the period with a 3-pointer and basket as the Celtics fans — still noticeable around the arena though not nearly to the extent as when the Nets played in New Jersey — became more vocal.
When he picked up his fourth foul and Rivers sent Jeff Green to the table to check in for him, Pierce pleaded to stay, Rivers agreed, and Pierce made the gamble pay off with consecutive baskets that gave Boston a 73-71 lead.
The Nets shot out to a quick 11-point lead that was trimmed to 31-26 after one quarter. Brooklyn kept its lead throughout the second quarter, using 15 offensive rebounds in the first half to score 19 second-chance points and build a 59-50 advantage.
"I was disappointed with our effort in the first half. I thought they just kicked our butts in the first half," Rivers said. "I thought they were more physical, went over our backs, pushed us around. In the second half, we did that. And the fourth quarter I thought we had great shots, we just couldn't make any of them."
NOTES: The Nets made their first regular-season appearance on TNT since Jan. 24, 2008, against Golden State. Marv Albert, who is from Brooklyn and worked for the Dodgers when he was young before later calling games for both the Knicks and the Nets, was the lead announcer. ... Lopez came in averaging 8.2 points in the first quarter and shooting 69.7 percent. He shot 5 of 7 Thursday.