Paul Pierce was quiet through the first three quarters, but with the Brooklyn Nets trailing by one late in the game he came alive and scored nine points in the final five minutes to lead his team to a 94-87 victory in Game 1 of the NBA playoffs against the Toronto Raptors on Saturday afternoon.
“A lot of those moments late in the game can go either way,” Pierce said. “I thought I had the matchup and I took advantage of it.
We’re not going to get rattled. Sometimes young teams tend to panic and get frustrated but we don’t. We stay calm down the stretch.
This is what they brought me here for, these moments, my experience in the playoffs.”
The Nets got 24 points from Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, but the rest of the team struggled for the most part. Kevin Garnett and Mason Plumlee got into early foul trouble and Andre Blatche played poorly in their place. The team shot just 4-for-24 from behind the arc and missed 19-in-a-row at one point. However, they did a lot of little things to keep them in the game until Pierce took over in the fourth quarter.
One of the biggest differences for the Nets was turnovers. They committed just eight while the Raptors committed 17. The Nets were also beaten on the glass 45-37, but still managed to compete in the paint and outscored them 40-34. Most importantly, they held the Raptors to just 39.4 percent from the floor.
“I think defensively, we’re 13-0 when we hold teams under 40 percent,” D-Will said. “Anytime you do that you give yourselves a chance to win. Good defense and taking care of the ball down the stretch, that’s why we got the win.”
The Nets came out with a good pace thanks to 11 points in the first quarter from D-Will and eight from Joe Johnson and led by as much as 12 with a 29-21 lead after one. They were 10-for-20 from the floor that quarter including 3-for-5 from behind the arc.
“A lot of it was how they were playing me, but my teammates were telling me to be aggressive,” D-Will said of his strong play early. “When I’m in the lane making things happen, I think we’re a better team.”
The Nets let the Raptors back in it during the second quarter though as they were 0-for-10 from behind the arc. They continued to struggle from the floor in the third quarter and it was only strong team defense that kept them in the game.
“This is playoff basketball,” Jason Kidd said. “It’s about getting stops at crucial times. It was a wonderful game to watch. It’s about getting stops at the right time.”
The Nets had a five-point lead going into the fourth, but quickly gave it back as the bench continued to struggle. Once the starters came back in, Livingston hit a couple of shots from the floor at key moments to hold on to the lead until Pierce could run away with it. The key play was a 25-foot three from Pierce to put the Nets up by six with 2:58 left.
“I thought it was just part of great execution,” Pierce said of that possession. “They play the pick and roll tight and Deron just found me open on the weak side, I was able to knock down a three. I was the third option, they took away the first and second option and I was just the third option.”
The Nets take a 1-0 lead in the series with one more to play in Toronto on Tuesday before they head back to Brooklyn on Friday. Winning this one takes a lot of pressure off of the Nets as they can now come away with at least a split in Toronto. That’s a big advantage especially considering how they’ve played at home in the Barclays Center.