Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce says his dislike for Miami Heat counterpart LeBron James is not personal, per multiple reports.
ESPN New York's Ohm Youngmisuk spoke with Pierce prior to tip-off of Game 1 of the two teams' best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinals series to get his take on the matter:
"For the 26th time, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett will square off with LeBron James in a playoff game when the Brooklyn Nets open their second-round series against the Heat on Tuesday night.
"Pierce says it's only natural that there's some dislike between the two former Celtics and James. The Nets swingman, though, says it's not anything personal.
"'I think it is more of a basketball thing,' Pierce said before the Nets' shootaround prior to Game 1, when asked if there is any dislike between him and James. 'We are aiming for the same prize and only one of you can get it, you know?'
"'I mean, it's going to be a dislike there,' Pierce continued. 'That's nothing that has carried over off the court. I think everything -- the dislike for me, LeBron, or Miami or Cleveland -- it's all based on what we are both chasing, and that is about it.'"
"I think it's a big part of my success, period -- I'm not intimidated by nobody. There's always going to be great players, there's always going to be challenges.
"I think that's one of my greatest strengths. I'm not afraid to face challenges, or any matchup in the league.
"No (I don't have a relationship with James). I really don't have a relationship with anybody in the NBA, outside of my teammates. I mean, (there are) guys I respect.
"I've been to the All-Star Game with a lot of them. But it's just a mutual respect. It's not like I'm calling anybody except for the people I grew up with and my family."
A day before Pierce aired out his sentiments, James also chimed in on his matchup with the Nets forward when he spoke with USA TODAY's Jeff Zilgitt.
That series went the full distance, highlighted by a memorable Game 7 in which James scored 45 points and Pierce went off for 41. The Celtics won, 97-92, and went on to win the NBA title against their archrivals, the Los Angeles Lakers.
James told Zilgitt it should be a challenge to go up against Pierce, who he considers to be one of the best players he's ever gone up against.
"Obviously, he made a couple more plays than I made to help them go to the Eastern Conference Finals. It was a big-time game by both of us, but it was more satisfying for him because he was able to move on.
"You see them (Nets) so much, there's really nothing to hide. They know my tendencies, I know their tendencies, their likes and dislikes and vice versa. It should be very challenging.
"I've always wanted to compete against the best in the postseason. I've always looked at Paul as one of the better guys we have in our league.
"He's had the upper edge on me. I've had the upper edge on him. It's another opportunity to see who gets the upper edge.
"It's big-time to go against a Hall of Famer especially in the playoffs. He's a guy who has made so many big plays and clutch shots in his career and vice versa. It should be fun."
Youngmisuk stresses this will be the fifth time in the past seven playoffs Pierce and Garnett have squared off against James.
James scored 22 points to lead the Heat to their first victory over the Nets this season -- a 107-86 rout in Game 1 of their best-of-seven playoff series on May 6. Miami leaned on a decisive 33-23 scoring advantage in the third quarter to put Brooklyn away for good.
Pierce scored just eight points while Garnett failed to score a single point. Joe Johnson and Deron Williams each score 17 points for the Nets.
James now leads Pierce and Garnett 14-12 in their all-time playoff game matchups with the Game 1 win.