By Jason Schott - @JESchott19
The Brooklyn Nets won Game 7 in Toronto, outlasting the Raptors 104-103 on Sunday afternoon, with the game ending on a Paul Pierce block of a running layup by Kyle Lowry. They are the first Brooklyn team to win a Game 7 on the road since the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, when they won their only World Series at Yankee Stadium.
Paul Pierce said the key to the victory was "Mental fortitude. We just had the mental capacity to come in here, had the toughness not to give in, not to think about what happened last time we were here, and I just think that's our experience right there. We said it from the beginning of the series, get a Game 7 on the road, to get a win, just got to have mental toughness, and we had it today."
They advance to take on the team they were built to compete against, the Miami Heat, in the second round starting on Tuesday night. The Nets swept Miami in the regular season, winning all four games, the only team that did not lose to Miami this season.
It was one year ago to the day that the Nets lost a year ago in Game 7 of Round 1 to the Chicago Bulls, and that led General Manager Billy King to bring in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to make sure that did not happen again. This time, the Nets dominated the game throughout, and though it got dicey at the end, they got wanted they wanted: a second round match-up with LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The Raptors came out a lot stronger than in Game 6, and threw all they had at the Nets, but a Paul Pierce three-pointer cut the Raptors' lead to 28-26. That gave the Nets momentum into a second quarter in which they scored 35 points, led by Marcus Thornton, who had 10 points in the frame. The Nets led 61-53 at halftime.
Toronto came out strong in the second half, and cut the Nets' lead to six, at 69-63, on a Kyle Lowry layup with 6:09 left in the third. Andray Blatche, who had a tough first half, responded with a dunk and a layup to make it 75-65 with 3:31 left. A Joe Johnson three made it 81-70 Nets with nine second left, but DeMar DeRozan hit a three at the buzzer to make it 81-73 Nets entering the fourth.
The fourth opened with a Kevin Garnett jumper and a Thornton three to make it 86-75 Nets. With the Nets up 90-82 with under eight minutes left, there was a scramble off a Garnett miss, and Amir Johnson got tangled up with Joe Johnson on a loose ball. Joe was down with an apparent lower leg injury. As KG went over to look at him, Lowry ran into him on the way to check on Amir. Garnett was wrongly called for a technical foul for the contact, as he did not initiate it, so DeRozan hit the free throw.
A minute later, with 7:20 left, DeRozan hit a jumper to make it 90-85. Mr. Clutch, Joe Johnson, scored seven straight points to open up a 97-87 Nets lead with 5:37 left. With 4:11 left, Deron Williams drove the lane and Kyle Lowry tried to draw a charge, and he had position on D-Will, but his right foot was sliding, so Williams drew the offensive foul and went to the line. He hit just one of two free throws. When the Raptors went down to the other end, Blatche drew an offensive foul on DeRozan, who got a technical foul for arguing. Blatche had position for about three seconds before contact, unlike Lowry, so the refs got both calls right on the money. Johnson missed the free throw.
The Raptors were as close as five at the 7:20 mark, and the Nets kept it above that until the 2:29 mark when Lowry hit a jumper to make it 98-93 Nets. Johnson and Patrick Patterson traded baskets, so the Nets led by five with 1:46 left. The Raptors were tough on the inbounds off the Patterson basket, but Terrence Ross fouled Williams, and once again, he hit just one of two free throws. Patterson got to the line with 56 seconds left and hit his free throws to make it 101-97 Nets. Lowry got to the line with 25 seconds left and hit a couple free throws to make it 101-99 Brooklyn.
Deron Williams was fouled by Lowry on the inbounds with 22 seconds left, and if he hit the two free throws, the pattern of Toronto getting the ball down four points would continue. Deron looked around before taking the free throw, almost psyching himself out before shooting the ball and missed the first free throw, his third miss down the stretch, pathetic for a guy making $18.5 million. He hit the second one to make it 102-99 Nets with 22 seconds left.
The Raptors wasted no time and Lowry drove the lane, going right at Garnett and Shaun Livingston. Lowry tried to draw contact on Livingston, and may have even pushed off with his elbow, but Livingston backed away as Lowry laid it in. That made it 102-101 Nets with 16 seconds left.
Shaun Livingston got to the line, as he was fouled on the inbounds with 13 seconds left. Looking determined at the line, unlike D-Will, he drained both free throws to make it 104-101 Nets. Toronto did the same thing again, a quick drive down the lane, and it was Terrence Ross getting the layup to make it 104-103 with eight seconds left.
The Nets called a timeout to advance the ball into the frontcourt, but there was so much pressure, Livingston burned the Nets' last timeout. The second try by Livingston on the inbounds was no easier, and he tried to find Paul Pierce in the corner. Ross leaped over Pierce to get the ball and flinged it off Pierce's leg to gain possession.
The Raptors had what they wanted: they were down a point 104-103 with 6.3 seconds left. Kyle Lowry drove the lane, but Pierce blocked the shot to seal the win.
Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd said of the last play, "We were feeling that Lowry was going to get the ball, and I told KG walking on the floor that I needed him to trap, that once the ball comes in, maybe if it's a pick-and-roll, I need you to go hit it and stay with it and make him a passer, and Paul steps up and makes a big block. I thought team defense down the stretch, we might have bent a little, but we didn't break. That's what veteran guys do...Paul said it best, that's why he's here, to make plays. He didn't have a great game, but it only takes ONE PLAY to help a team win, and that's what he did tonight."
Afterwards, Pierce told ABC, "We gotta do a better job of getting the ball inbounds, I gotta do a better job setting. But look, we said we were gonna win this one. Lowry, we knew he was going to try to get to the hole. It was a struggle for the ball, I saw him go up, I went up for the block, clean block at the end. It was a great playoff series, these guys are gonna be tough to beat in the near future."
On the Raptors battling back, Pierce said, "They're a grind it out team, they have so many fourth quarter comebacks. I just think we have to do a better job competing, they dug their hands, got to the basket, got some calls...some calls didn't go our way, but that's the way the playoffs are. We knew they were going to give their best - this was a great series and I was glad to be a part of it."