NEW YORK (AP) — For Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, seeing Deron Williams back far outweighed seeing the Celtics again.
Williams scored a season-high 25 points in his return to the lineup, Brook Lopez added 24, and the Brooklyn Nets beat Boston 104-96 Tuesday night in the first matchup for Pierce and Garnett against their former team.
"D-Will set the tone for how we were going to play tonight," Garnett said.
Garnett had 11 points, just his third time in double figures this season, and grabbed nine rebounds. Pierce finished with four points and seven rebounds in his first appearance off the bench in six years after making a quick recovery from a broken right hand.
But the key was Williams, who had missed nine straight games and 11 overall with a sprained left ankle, and hadn't been sharp in the games in which he did appear.
"He's the head of the snake," Pierce said. "I mean he's one of the most important pieces of what we're trying to do here, what we're trying to build and trying to win a championship."
The Nets won consecutive games for the first time this season, a stunning stat for a team that considered itself a championship contender after acquiring Pierce and Garnett in a blockbuster that was agreed to on draft night.
Both veterans had struggled, with the 12.4 points per game and .368 shooting by Pierce easily the lowest of his career before he was hurt on Nov. 29. The Nets had lost six straight at home, their longest skid since moving to Brooklyn.
"We're starting to get whole and it's definitely good to have everybody back," Williams said. "Even though Paul didn't start, I thought he came in and gave us a big boost off the bench. It seemed like our energy level was a lot better. More intensity on both ends of the floor."
Avery Bradley scored 22 points and Jeff Green had 19 for the Celtics, who have been competitive after trading away two of their most important players from their 2008 NBA championship team. Boston had a three-game winning streak snapped and its Atlantic Division-leading record fell to 10-13.
"The players that they had come back tonight, I still feel like they were a very good team. But obviously having two of their leaders as in Deron Williams and Paul, you know that definitely helps them out a lot," Bradley said.
The Celtics had started with 14-0 and 12-0 leads in their last two games, the latter eventually ballooning to a 45-point bulge in a 114-73 victory over the New York Knicks on Sunday that was the NBA's most lopsided game this season.