NEW ORLEANS - Leaders lead in different ways.
Some are verbal. Some do it with their play. Some do it behind the scenes.
Paul Pierce does it all.
He does not do it like General Patton, rather like E.F. Hutton. When he speaks, his Brooklyn Nets teammates tend to listen.
In the absence of Kevin Garnett, the emotional, outspoken leader of this team who has missed the last 13 games with back spasms, Pierce has led.
Never was that more on display than at the start of this three-game road trip. Pierce had this to say about blowing a 22-point lead after Monday night’s 109-104 OT loss in New Orleans to the Pelicans.
“It’s disappointing, very disappointing,’’ Pierce said. “We let our guard down in the third, no excuse.
“We were up. That’s when we’ve got a chance to really put a team away. We stopped defending, stopped doing the things that got us the lead. I thought we settled a lot for a lot of jumpers instead of getting the ball into the paint. It allowed them to get back into the game. Once they got their confidence, it’s a ballgame.’’
Pierce did not wait until tip-off to lead. After Sunday night’s 107-104 OT win in Dallas against the Mavericks, he warned his teammates that the playoffs are approaching and it was time to take it to another level.
“We can’t be overly excited about one win,’’ Pierce said. “We can’t have high emotions one night and have an emotional letdown the next. We have to come with the same attitude every game because that’s what it’s going to take in the playoffs.”
Pierce tried to set the tone against New Orleans. He scored 15 points in the first half as the Nets built a 22-point lead. They led 58-42 at halftime.
There was a moment of panic midway through the third quarter when Pierce crashed to the floor in Smoothie King Center and got up massaging the right shoulder that has been plagued by a stinger injury throughout the season.
While he was on the bench, the Pelicans trimmed their deficit to 67-59. Pierce checked back in.
After the Nets had blown a 22-point lead and fallen behind by five with 1:14 left, it was Pierce’s 3 with 24.1 seconds left that tied the score at 98-98 and forced OT.
The Nets ran out of gas and suffered a loss that could hurt them in the long run. They blew a chance to close to within one game of the Toronto Raptors for first place in the Atlantic Division.
So where do the Nets go after suffering such a disheartening loss?
“We got to finish off the road trip on a good note,’’ Pierce said in a somber Nets locker room. “The good thing about this ball club, you saw the disappointment on everybody’s face. You saw everybody was pissed off about letting this game go.’’
IRISH NETS BRIGADE: The Nets were well represented at the recent St. Patrick’s Day parade. Four Brooklyn Nets fans from Ireland, clad in green O’Irish Nets T-shirts, traveled to New York for the parade.
“We heard Kevin Garnett is a football fan, which was a pleasant surprise,’’ Sean O’Grady of Dublin said of KG’s love affair with the premier league team, Chelsea. “So we’ve chosen to become basketball fans.
“I’d prefer he pick another club than Chelsea. There are no Irish lads. Perhaps he’d consider Queens Park.’’
The Queens Park Rangers have two Irish players.
WON’T BACK DOWN: Pierce has been going up against bigger forwards most of the season since switching to the stretch four. With 2:36 left in the third quarter of Monday’s game, he showed he wouldn't back down.
The 6-7, 235-pound Pierce got locked up with the Pelicans’ 7-2, 265-pound Alexis Ajinca, who seemingly twice clipped Pierce with an elbow.
Pierce walked towards Ajinca, pointing his index finger, hotter than New Orleans hot sauce. New Orleans star Anthony Davis had to step between the players. Pierce got called for a technical foul.
“I can’t even pronounce the guy’s name,’’ Pierce said. “He threw consecutive elbows at my face for like three straight trips. I got tired of it. I said something to him.’’