NEW YORK (AP) — Deron Williams had the Brooklyn Nets speeding toward a Game 7 when suddenly everything stopped.
He had just crashed to the court with what looked like yet another ankle injury. Kevin Garnett waved for help, and Williams slowly began limping back toward the bench. Then he decided to stay in.
For all the big names and big salaries on the Nets, Williams knows they aren’t going anywhere unless he leads them.
Williams shook off his second-half injury to score 23 points and Brooklyn forced a seventh game in its first-round series by beating the Toronto Raptors 97-83 on Friday night.
“I think that just shows leadership and toughness, and that’s what he did tonight for us,” Nets coach Jason Kidd said.
Despite spraining his left ankle early in the third quarter, Williams dominated his matchup with Kyle Lowry and helped the Nets put it away with a 3-pointer with 1:13 left that made it 92-79.
Game 7 is Sunday in Toronto, with the winner advancing to face the defending champion Miami Heat.
It became the fourth first-round series ticketed for a do-or-die game in these playoffs, with the Atlantic Division champion Raptors trying to get by a Nets team that still has a chance to reach the high expectations it had entering the season.
But it can’t be done without Williams, who has scored 20 points in all three Nets victories in the series.
“I know myself, I needed to be more aggressive after the last two losses,” Williams, who has battled ankle problems the last two seasons, said after limping up to the postgame podium.
“In the three games we’ve won, I’ve been really aggressive getting into the paint, making things happen, not only scoring the ball but making the extra pass,” Williams added, “and so I know that’s what my team needs so me to do.”
DeMar DeRozan scored 28 for the Raptors, who will have to go the distance if they are to win a seven-game series for the first time in franchise history. They haven’t won any postseason series since 2001, and never really had a chance to wrap this one up after falling behind by 26 points.
“We should’ve known they were going to come out throwing haymakers and we weren’t ready for it until the second half,” DeRozan said.
Lowry shot 4 of 16 for 11 points after scoring 36 in the Raptors’ Game 5 victory. He was the only other Toronto player in double figures.
Joe Johnson had 17 points and Kevin Garnett 13 for the Nets, who will play in a Game 7 for the second straight season. They fell to Chicago last year on their home floor and will try to win it this time in Toronto, where they won Game 1.
Alan Anderson had nine points and nine rebounds for the Nets after Kidd shook up his starting lineup, inserting Anderson over Shaun Livingston.
After ringing up a franchise playoff-record 44 points in fourth quarter of a Game 5 comeback that fell short, the Nets carried that momentum into this one, making 11 of their first 15 shots in what became a 34-point opening period.
“Tonight, they got their foot on the pedal a lot quicker than we did,” Toronto coach Dwane Casey said.
The Nets were still leading comfortably when Williams went down on a drive to the basket just over 2 minutes into the second half, crashing to the court behind the basket. Kidd motioned for Williams to stay in to shoot the free throws so he would be eligible to finish the game, and the crowd loudly cheered as the point guard tried to walk it off.
He made one of them, then nailed a 3-pointer from the corner before Anderson’s basket pushed the lead to 68-43. The lead was still 22 early in the fourth before an 11-0 run by Toronto cut it to 84-73 with 7:40 remaining.
Facing an early exit that would’ve turned this $180 million team into a first-round flop, Brooklyn hit the Raptors with an 18-5 burst that made it 32-16. Then, leading by 12 in the second, the Nets ran off nine straight points, Andray Blatche’s follow shot making it 51-30 with 4:26 remaining in the half.
Anderson had the final two baskets of the half, including a jumper at the buzzer that made it 60-41.
NOTES: Kidd was fined $25,000 by the NBA on Friday for comments he made about the officiating during a conference call with reporters on Thursday. … The crowd included Jay-Z and Beyonce seated near Brooklyn’s bench, and actress Ellen Pompeo and rapper Drake alongside Toronto’s.
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