Deron Williams celebrates in the closing minutes of the win. Credit: Getty Images
Paul Pierce drove with the intention of getting Deron Williams or Joe Johnson a good shot.
When it turned out Williams did not have much room to operate against his defender, Pierce flared out to the 3-point line in anticipation of a pass or a wide-open 3-pointer.
With 1:14 left in the fourth quarter, three seconds left on the shot clock and standing 25 feet away from the basket, Pierce hit a shot to give the Nets the lead for good in a 101-97 victory over the Raptors.
Pierce was not even supposed to play after injuring his right shoulder trying to defend Sacramento’s Jason Thompson in the opening minute Sunday. He woke up feeling fine and aided by a piece of black tape across his shoulder and neck, Pierce delivered some of his biggest plays of the season.
“It wasn’t really a designed play,” Pierce said. “I was trying to get D-Will [or] Joe the ball. Those are our hot guys; those are our scorers. Once we swing the ball, we’re programmed to drive the ball [and] be aggressive. We’ve been having success getting into the paint, getting fouled. So I drove the ball at first and I thought he had the shot. Once he drove again, I just flared out to the 3-point line, saw the shot clock winding down and I was able to make a shot off his penetration.”
“Paul played great tonight,” Williams said. “It didn’t seem like he was hindered at all. I thought he came out and he was very aggressive. He hit a lot of clutch shots for us, made free throws down the stretch and I’m definitely glad he played tonight.”
Once Pierce made that read and executed the shot, an already loud crowd which had witnessed 12 lead changes became even louder as Alan Anderson emerged from the Brooklyn bench to chest bump Pierce during a timeout.
“It was unbelievable,” Pierce said. “Now we know, you Brooklyn fans, you can’t go below that anymore — that’s the expectation. Our crowd was unbelievable tonight and it’s probably the best I’ve heard them all year. It was a playoff atmosphere. They were into it from start to finish and I really feed off of those type of crowds. It brings energy and it brings momentum to our ball club and we love it.”
“I thought this was the best the crowd has been all year,” Williams said. “They were amazing tonight and a big key in the victory.”
Pierce’s final shot came after grabbing the biggest of his four rebounds and Brooklyn’s 30 boards. With the game tied at 94-94, DeMar DeRozan took a left corner 3-pointer with 1:36 left but the ball glanced off the top of the rim and Pierce ensured he grabbed the rebound.
On the other end, he drove, then passed to Deron Williams, who promptly found Pierce open at the 3-point line.
The final shot was the dramatic finale of a night that saw Pierce deliver 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. Pierce wound up 3-of-8, but made two 3-pointers in the final five minutes and hit four free throws in the fourth quarter. Kyle Lowry missed a 3-pointer with 22.8 seconds left that would have forged a 99-99 tie.
The miss gave the Nets not only their eighth straight home win but moved them within three games of the Raptors for the Atlantic Division with 20 games remaining.
The teams, which met in the 2007 Eastern Conference quarterfinals when Toronto won the Atlantic, have split the four meetings this season. Three of them have been decided by a combined six points and it seems likely the meeting on Jan. 11 might have been closer than 16 points had the Nets not arrived in Toronto at 4 a.m. following a double-overtime win over Miami.
“It was big,” Pierce said. “I was telling the guys before the game, ‘If we lose this game, there’s probably no chance we have a chance to win the Atlantic Division.’ Because, for one, they win the series, then in case of a tie they win that battle because of the series. So it was a huge game and knowing that we still have a chance to win the division, move up as a seed, you never know, this could be a team we play in the first round.”
The Nets would currently play Toronto but are at least within striking distance of getting home-court advantage in the first round. Brooklyn had home court last season against Chicago but showed little energy in a Game 7 loss.
The early moments of Monday had many of those same traits as the Nets fell behind by 12 before storming back to within 51-50 at halftime. It didn’t seem like Pierce’s late game heroics would be needed after Johnson and Williams hit two 3-pointers apiece in a 14-0 run that upped the lead to 73-60. But Toronto stormed back with 11 straight points before the Nets took a 78-73 lead into the fourth.