Last season, Paul Pierce limped through training camp with a strained foot. This time, Pierce has avoided aches, pains, and setbacks in getting off to a strong start to the exhibition season.

Pierce scored 29 points — 20 in the opening half – but the Celtics faltered in the final minutes of a 97-96 loss to the Brooklyn Nets Tuesday night at the Garden.

"I'm trying to establish a rhythm,'' Pierce said. "I was going to try to be aggressive, I was really disappointed I didn't do it the last couple games.

"It's a combination of being aggressive, learning my teammates, learning a new offense, also. And understanding where the shots are going to come from. When I'm aggressive out there, everybody else follows. It was pretty contagious.''

In the second quarter, Pierce produced 10 points over a 1-minute-and-2-second span, then blocked an Andray Blatche shot. Pierce displayed his range in the opening half, with three 3-pointers, two left-handed drives, plus two of his trademark elbow jumpers, one a banker.

In the third quarter, Pierce was content to stay on the perimeter, nailing three more 3-pointers in a 2:04 span, going to the bench in the third quarter after playing 26:46 seconds. Pierce is averaging 15.8 points and 23-plus minutes per game.

Kevin Garnett had 8 points and two blocked shots in the opening six minutes of the second half, soon going to the bench for the remainder of the contest.

The Celtics led by 14 points late in the third quarter, then went deep into the bench and faltered in the final quarter. Coach Doc Rivers left the court in the second half, allowing assistant Armond Hill to coach the team in the final minutes.

"I think it's good experience for our assistant coach, if [Rivers] ever gets kicked out of the game," Pierce said. "Doc mentioned after the game they have to step up, just like the players. There might be times when I foul out, the other guys have to be ready."

Point guard Rajon Rondo, who played 35:26, was also involved in coaching decisions, helping set up a last-second in-bounds play.