NEW YORK – Before Monday night’s showdown with the Toronto Raptors, Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd said he was surprised Paul Pierce would be on the court.
After all, less than 24 hours earlier, the veteran guard was forced off the floor with a bruised shoulder.
Pierce had no doubt where he would be, though.
“I knew the implications of this game,” Pierce said. “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. You can always pen me in with those types of games.”
Pierce played an influential role in the pivotal Atlantic Division victory, draining a 3-pointer with 1:14 left in the fourth quarter to help lift the Nets to a 101-97 win over the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center.
While Kidd’s mantra that every game is equally important, it was clear from the outset the Nets valued this one a bit more. It was a showdown of the top two teams in the Atlantic Division and a possible playoff preview.
Brooklyn (32-30) evened the season series with the Raptors at 2-2.
“If we lose this game, there’s probably no chance of winning the Atlantic Division because they win the series, in the case of a tie, they win that battle,” said Pierce, who had 15 points. “It was a huge game.”
The 17,351 in attendance responded accordingly with the Barclays Center being louder than it has been all season.
“Now we know, you Brooklyn fans, you can’t go below that anymore. That’s the expectation,” Pierce said. “Our crowd was unbelievable tonight and it’s probably the best I’ve heard them all year. It was a playoff atmosphere. … I really feed off those types of crowds.”
The game also had special meaning to the Nets, who lost 104-103 the last time the Raptors (35-27) came to Brooklyn on January 27.
“It was big, just how we gave the game away last time – that’s what we did we gave it away,” Nets forward Mason Plumlee said. “We played them close every time. It could be a potential matchup in the playoffs so it was big for us to set a tone.”
It was evident that Pierce caused matchup problems for the Raptors.
“Their lineup is funky, man,” Toronto guard Kyle Lowry said. “When you have Paul Pierce at the four, it is tough to guard. Amir [Johnson] is an unbelievable defender, but he is also our help guy and sometimes it is tough for him to get back out. Pierce made a three over me and I was literally on him, in which I could smack him in the face.”
Following the go-ahead three by Pierce — who became the fifth player in NBA history to make 1,900 career 3-pointers, joining Ray Allen, Reggie Miller, Kidd and former teammate Jason Terry — guard DeMar DeRozan (14 points) knocked down a pair of free throws to pull Toronto within 97-96 with 1:03 left.
Guard Shaun Livingston, who along with guard Deron Williams led the Nets with 18 points, forced a turnover by Raptors forward Terrence Ross (12 points) by tipping a ball in the lane and then followed with a pair of free throws to extend the Nets’ lead to 99-96 with 22.8 seconds remaining.
Lowry (21 points, eight rebounds, seven assists) missed a step-back 3-pointer that would have tied it, and forward Andray Blatche went 1-of-2 from the foul line to seal the win for Brooklyn (32-30), which stretched its season-high home winning streak to eight games.
While the Nets flourished in the environment, Toronto coach Dwane Casey said he didn’t think his team responded well down the stretch.
“It was playoff-type of basketball with physicality. I’ve said it forever that we have to get ready to play that style of basketball,” Casey said. “We had three big-time turnovers that caused us some buckets.”
NOTES: Nets F Kevin Garnett (back spasms) was a late scratch and missed his sixth straight game, and F Andrei Kirilenko was out with a sprained right ankle. Brooklyn G Paul Pierce, who left Sunday’s game with a right shoulder injury, was listed as a game-time decision, but was a surprise inclusion to the lineup, according to Nets coach Jason Kidd. “I thought he was out and this is the kind of player and competitor he is, he wants to play,” Kidd said before the game Monday. “So the concern at any position you take a pounding no matter what. He’s a pro and he wants to help this team win and he understands how important he is to the team.” … The Raptors were without F Patrick Patterson (right ulnar collateral sprain). … The Raptors return home to take on Detroit Wednesday in the first of a three-game homestand. … The Nets will play back-to-back games on the road beginning Wednesday in Miami.
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