Pierce performs under pressure late to lead Nets over Raptors

By Jason Schott - @JESchott19

The Nets got a big win over the Toronto Raptors, 101-97, at a raucous Barclays Center on Monday night. The win pulls the Nets to within three games in the Atlantic Division race behind Toronto and puts them a season-best two over .500 at 32-30.

Paul Pierce got the shot of the night, a three-pointer with 1:14 left that gave the Nets a 97-94 lead. The sequence started with Pierce faking a three, then he passed to Deron Williams, who turned down a three of his own to pass it back to Pierce on the side, this time he took a three that sent the crowd into a frenzy.

The Raptors got back to within a point as DeMar DeRozan hit a couple of free throws with 1:03 left. Williams missed a layup on the Nets' next possession, and then Shaun Livingston stole one from Terrence Ross with 25.9 seconds left, and he was fouled with 22.8 left. He made one of two, giving the Nets a three-point lead, at 99-96.

The Raptors had plenty of time to tie it up, but the Nets' defense was stifling, and Kyle Lowry out up a long three that barely grazed the rim with 10.8 seconds left. It is questionable why they didn't throw the ball around more, and try to get it to three-point specialist Steve Novak in the corner. To the Nets' credit, they had Novak, and everyone else on the perimeter, covered.

The Raptors fouled the right Net on the inbounds pass, Andray Blatche, with 6.5 seconds left. Blatche missed the first and made the second free throw to make it 100-96. Kyle Lowry was fouled in the backcourt before he could get a shot up, though he did try to get one off in time. Lowry hit his first of two free throws, but on the second one, he was called for a lane violation as he leapt forward before the ball hit the rim. Pierce was fouled on the inbounds with 4.7 left, and he hit one of two free throws to make it 101-97, and Lowry missed a three from near halfcourt as time expired.

The Raptors controlled the first half and led 51-50 at halftime. The Nets had some momentum in the second quarter and came out firing in the third, opening it up with a 23-9 run, capped by two Deron Williams three-pointers followed by a Joe Johnson three with 4:28 left to make it 73-60. This game was not meant to be a blowout, and Toronto got back into it and cut the Nets' lead to 78-73 at the end of it. This set up the thrilling fourth quarter.

Pierce had 15 on 3-for-8 shooting, and it is amazing that he played tonight after suffering a tough right shoulder injury on Sunday night against the Kings. On if there was doubt he would play tonight, Pierce said, "Not in my mind. I woke up this morning feeling pretty good, I had my shoulder worked on this morning, so I knew the implications of this game. Maybe if it was a different type of game, but this was one of our biggest games of the year, they are a division rival, a lot on the line tonight, so you can always pen me in with those types of games."

Pierce said of the importance of the win, "It was good. If we lose this game, there's probably no chance of winning the Atlantic Division because, they would win the series, so it was a huge game knowing that we still have a chance to win the division, move up a seed and you never know, this could be a team we play in the third round." Pierce was referencing the fact that the Nets split the season series with the Raptors, beating them tonight and November 26th in Toronto, and the Raptors' two wins came in Toronto on January 11th and here in Brooklyn on January 27th.

The Nets were led by their point guards, Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston, who had 18 points each. Williams shot 6-for-13 and had 5 assists. Livingston shot 7-for-10 and had 3 assists. Joe Johnson had 14 points on 6-for-13 from the field, 4 assists, and 4 rebounds.

Mason Plumlee got the start in place of Kevin Garnett for the sixth straight game. Kidd said that Garnett was going to start before the game, but his back tightened up right before tip-off. Plumlee had 6 points and 8 rebounds in 26 minutes.

One difference tonight was that the rebounding disparity was not as stark as the past few games, with the Raptors getting 37 rebounds to the Nets' 30. Turnovers were closer than usual, and the Nets won that battle 14-12. The Nets' defense kept the Raptors' biggest scorer, DeMar DeRozan, in check, limiting him to 14 points on 3-for-9 shooting. DeRozan averages 22.8 points per game. Greivis Vasquez, who had 12 points his last time in, was hed to just four, and Steve Novak had just two points.

Nets Head Coach Jason Kidd said of the meaning of the win after losing to them last time, "I think there was a lot of improvement. The guys, they might have marked the game and I think it showed. The energy and the effort has been the same since the Chicago and Memphis games; the energy has been high. Guys defensively have been together as one and offensively the guys are sharing the ball. It's fun to watch."

Raptors Coach Dwane Casey said of the game, "Offensively, Brooklyn made big shots down the stretch. We had some crucial turnovers. Again, it was playoff type basketball with physicality. I've said it forever that we have to be ready to play that style of basketball. We had three big time turnovers because they got into us at the end of the game. That's when you got to get into the defense and make plays. We had some crucial turnovers that cost us some buckets."

The Nets have another big test on Wednesday night, as they travel down to Miami to take on the Heat.