Pierce clutch as Nets take Game 1 from Raptors
Toronto, ON (SportsNetwork.com) - Paul Pierce and the veteran-laden Brooklyn Nets took over down the stretch to gain the upper hand in their Eastern Conference quarterfinal series with the Toronto Raptors, coming through with a 94-87 Game 1 victory at a raucous Air Canada Centre.
Pierce scored nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes, part of a 19-11 game-ending run that put away the upstart Raptors in their first playoff game since 2008.
Joe Johnson and Deron Williams contributed 24 apiece to help Brooklyn draw first blood in a contentious series that became more heated after Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri made disparaging remarks towards the Nets during a pregame rally outside Air Canada Centre.
"Winning on the road is more gratifying then when you do it at home," said Pierce afterward.
The third-seeded and Atlantic Division champion Raptors received 22 points and eight assists from Kyle Lowry and a 17-point, 18-rebound effort out of Jonas Valanciunas, but shot just 39.4 percent from the field and committed 17 turnovers.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto's leading scorer during the regular season, finished with 14 points but went 3-of-13 from the floor.
"I thought we played a little bit as expected, as it is our first playoff game," said Toronto head coach Dwyane Casey. "We got the kinks out of the playoff atmosphere, now we have to go back and clean up the 19 turnovers."
The Raptors will attempt to even the series when Game 2 takes place Tuesday in Toronto.
Ujiri shouted "F--- Brooklyn" while delivering a fiery speech to a large crowd camped outside the Raptors' arena prior to the contest, and the tension was evident as well in a physical game that owned only a one-point differential before the battle-tested Nets got the better of the final five minutes.
Johnson started a pivotal 7-0 run with runner that gave Brooklyn a 77-76 edge and Kevin Garnett knocked down his only basket of the day shortly afterward before Pierce's 3-pointer with 2:58 to go left the Nets up by six and Toronto reeling.
Pierce delivered two more clutch shots in the closing stages, the first a baseline jumper out of a timeout for an 86-78 advantage with 1:32 remaining. After a Greivis Vasquez 3-pointer got the Raptors back within five, Pierce landed a spinning runner from the foul line that all but iced the game with 51.9 seconds on the clock.
"We talked all season about what the six-minute mark means to our team and how we feel the veteran guys making plays for one another and sharing the ball," said Nets head coach Jason Kidd. "Tonight was a perfect of example of that with Deron and Joe playing in the pick-and-roll and Paul taking advantage."
Brooklyn carried a 50-46 lead into halftime and slowly extended the margin during a defensively dominated third quarter, with a pair of Johnson buckets that preceded Mason Plumlee's layup with 3:52 left in the stanza putting the Nets up 61-53. Lowry gave the Raptors some momentum heading into the fourth, however, beating the buzzer on a 3-pointer to close the gap to 67-62.
Toronto then opened the final quarter on a Patrick Patterson triple, which he followed with a run-out slam off a Lowry feed to knot the score at 67-67.
Vasquez, who put up 18 points off the bench, later sent the Raptors in front by burying a triple with 5:13 left to make the score 76-75.
Williams was the star of the first half, dropping in 18 points and capping a 6-1 run with a tough floater with 2:25 to go in the period that gave Brooklyn a 48-43 cushion.
The Raptors, meanwhile, were fortunate to be down by just four at intermission after a sloppy showing down the stretch of the second quarter. Toronto failed to make a field goal over the final 5:42 of the frame and committed five of their 12 first-half turnovers during that sequence.
Brooklyn, whose starting five came in with 399 games of playoff experience compared to 24 for the Raptors' regulars, showed its seasoning early on by jumping out to a 25-13 lead nine minutes in on the strength of an 18-2 tear in which Williams accounted for nine points.
Lowry countered his fellow point guard by netting the next five points, though, to help bring Toronto within 29-21 at the conclusion of the first quarter.
Vasquez fueled a Raptors' rally early in the second quarter, scoring eight points during a 10-3 flurry that forged a 35-35 tie.
The game was briefly delayed midway through the third quarter when the shot clocks above both baskets malfunctioned, causing the public address announcer to call out the time remaining for the remainder of the contest ... The Nets hit three of their first four 3-point attempts but finished 4-for-24 from beyond the arc ... The teams also squared off in the opening round of the 2007 Playoffs, with the No. 6 Nets upending the third-seeded Raptors in six games ... Casey was an assistant on the Dallas Mavericks' 2011 NBA champion squad that had Kidd as its starting point guard.
04/19 17:13:31 ET