Paul Pierce wasn’t perfect in his first home playoff game in Brooklyn, but he was close enough when it mattered most.
The Nets nearly blew a pair of 15-point leads in the final 5:44 but they wound up escaping the Barclays Center with a 102-98 victory in Game 3 Friday night to take a 2-1 series lead.
Pierce drew a critical foul on Patrick Patterson with 14 seconds left and hit both free throws to extend a one-possession game to 100-96.
“When you out there, you search for perfection,” Pierce said. “No game is perfect but you want to come close to it as possible. By no means did we close the game out like we wanted to. We had a big lead, we didn’t execute on offense and even though we won the game, we want to do a better job because as the rounds start and the games go on, the team figures out what you’re trying to do. If you go to the next round, you can’t afford those kinds of mistakes, so it’s best that you take care of it now.
“We got to understand everything’s on the line right now. You can’t have these silly turnovers, you can’t have these silly fouls late in the game. The game comes down to inches and we got to look at it tomorrow. It feels good to win but at the same time you know you can be a lot better.”
Joe Johnson gave the Nets a 15-point lead with 5:44 remaining and a 3-pointer by Johnson gave them a second 15-point cushion with just over five minutes left.
Pierce’s comments were a lot harsher than head coach Jason Kidd’s, though you might have gotten the sense he was doing some yelling in the fourth quarter since he conducted his postgame interview with a sore throat.
“The guys played great for 48 minutes,” Kidd said. “It was a game of runs and give Toronto credit, they made a run late. We talk about it every day — about the small things, boxing out free throws, knocking down free throws, boxing out on the free throw line and then turning around and making free throws. We had the opportunity and guys did it so we found a way to win at home, so we now we got to come back with the same energy on Sunday.”
The Nets found a way to escape by making four free throws in the final 14.6 seconds, coming after Patrick Patterson missed a pair with 19 seconds left. Had those gone down, the Nets would have playing for the last shot in a 98-98 deadlock instead of working with a slim 98-96 edge.
Johnson and Deron Williams were effective for the third straight game.
Johnson scored 21 of his 29 points in the second half while making 11-of-17 shots in his first playoff game since going 2-of-14 on one leg while dealing with plantar fasciitis through last year’s seven-game series loss to the Bulls.
Williams added 22 points and eight assists in 36 minutes while making 7-of-14 shots but he missed three foul shots in the fourth when the Nets wound up at the line 19 times.
“Honestly, I think we got a little lackadaisical,” Johnson said. “We were up 15 with five minutes left and that’s very uncharacteristic of us to blow a lead like that.”
“I think again, our fourth quarter was our worst defensive quarter and that’s the second game in a row,” Williams said. “We were up 15 and we got to work on extending that and putting teams away, especially in our building.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.