By Jason Schott - @JESchott19
The Nets won Game 1 over the Raptors in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, grinding out a 94-87 win in the final minutes led by Paul Pierce. This series has been billed as the experienced, older Nets against the young Raptors, and on this night, the veterans knew how to close it out.
The Nets led throughout the game, but the Raptors took a 76-75 lead with 5:13 remaining. By this point, the Nets had their starting five of Paul Pierce, Deron Williams, Joe Johnson, Shaun Livinsgton, and Kevin Garnett in there after leaving the bench in a minute or so too long.
The Nets responded on their next possession, with Joe Johnson hitting an open jumper to give the Nets a 77-76 lead with 4:52 left. A few possessions later, Kevin Garnett hit an open jumper to make it 79-76 with 3:41 left.
The Nets' defense tightened up, and basically were double teaming whoever had the ball. The Raptors, on the other hand, had their players lined up around the three-point line, and the Nets exploited it. Pierce got open for a three with 2:58 left, followed by faking out three Raptors on his way to a layup to make it 84-78 with 2:21 left. That was the start of a run in which Pierce scored nine points in a row to give the Nets an 88-81 lead with 51 seconds left.
Pierce, who finished with 15 points (6-13 FG, 2-5 on 3-pt), said of the nine points down the stretch, "You know, just veteran experience, a lot of those moments late in the game, it was a swing moment, it could have gone either way. I thought I had the matchup, and I took advantage of it."
On the feeling Pierce gets in a tight game down the stretch and what he loves about that moment, "I don't remember if I've ever played since I'm a dinosaur, it's been so long, I don't remember," Pierce said, referencing the Toronto Sun headline "Raptors vs. Dinosaurs," with a picture of Pierce and Garnett.
Pierce continued, "You know, you just get that feeling in the game, been in those situations a number of times. I don't get rattled in the fourth quarter down the stretch of playoff settings. I've been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine, so I just try to stay calm, bring my calmness to the game and try to influence the rest of the guys. I thought we did a great job of that.Most important thing, I thought we did a great job defensively. It wasn't about our offense, even though we executed, our defense was excellent in the fourth quarter."
On the difference experience made down the stretch in a playoff atmosphere, Pierce said, "It plays a lot. We're not gonna get rattled. Our timeouts, when they make a run, we're gonna stay together. Sometimes, with young teams, they panic and get frustrated with one another, and we don't. We stay calm throughout their runs and we plan and execute down the stretch."
It is the first career playoff win as a head coach for Jason Kidd. He said of the win, "Well, I think we talked all season about what the six-minute mark means to our team and what we feel that with veteran guys making plays for one another, sharing the ball, a play might be called for someone, but a teammate may end up with a shot, and that was a perfect example of that tonight with Deron and Joe playing in the pick-and-roll, and Paul benefiting from that and taking advantage of that."
Kidd was asked if this was the blueprint he hoped for in terms of pace and turnovers forced, he said, "This is playoff basketball and it's about getting stops at crucial times and it was a wonderful game to watch and probably for players to participate in. It's about getting stops at the right time."
Kidd referenced the Garnett basket that ultimately gave the Nets the lead at 77-76 as a very key moment in the win. "I thought one of the biggest plays, and it probably will be unnoticed, is the trust we have with our players and, you know, the game is tied, Pierce has the ball and he passes it to KG (Kevin Garnett). KG had probably not his best offensive night in terms of how he makes a big shot to break a tie. That just symbolized how we are as a team, that we trust one another no matter what, how someone's shooting from the floor, how someone's playing, that we all trust someone's going to step up and make a shot," said Kidd.
On the focus being on the playoffs since Pierce arrived and the fact they are here and if he felt a boost of energy, he said, "Without a doubt. This is what they brought me in here for. These moments, the playoffs, use my experience for the rest of these guys."