TORONTO (AP) — After a nail-biting triumph in Toronto, the Brooklyn Nets are moving on to Miami.
Paul Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry’s shot from the lane on the final play of the game, and the Nets held off the Toronto Raptors 104-103 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
The Nets will begin the conference semifinals Tuesday night against the two-time defending NBA champion Heat. Brooklyn went 4-0 against Miami in the regular season.
“That goes out the window,” Nets forward Kevin Garnett said. “This is the postseason. They’re playing very well, they went right through Charlotte without a beat and they have a lot of confidence.”
After taking down Toronto, the Atlantic Division champions, with a hard-earned road win in front of a loud, hostile crowd, the Nets aren’t short on confidence, either.
“These types of wins build character,” Pierce said.
The Heat have been idle for a week since sweeping the Bobcats, but Brooklyn’s Shaun Livingston said the downtime can be “a gift and a curse.”
“We’ve been playing, we obviously have a rhythm,” Livingston said.
Slowed by foul trouble and struggling with his shot Sunday, Pierce still found a way to come up big. Pierce had more fouls (three) than points (none) in the second half, but his only block of the game couldn’t have been more vital.
“I really didn’t have a great offensive game, I was in foul trouble for most of the night,” Pierce said. “Sometimes you’ve got to find ways to help your ballclub win.”
Leading by one, Brooklyn used its final timeout after failing to inbound the ball. On the second opportunity, Livingston tried a lob pass to Pierce, but Terrence Ross got a hand on the ball and then knocked it off Pierce and out of bounds for a turnover.
“I rushed it a little bit,” Livingston said. “I’m thinking Paul is going to hold him off. He kind of slipped there. Once he slipped it was a jump ball and Terrence Ross is probably the last guy you want to throw a jump ball to.”
Toronto used a timeout and gave the ball to Lowry, whose driving shot was blocked by Pierce as time expired. Lowry lay prone in the key as the Nets surged onto the court in celebration.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Pierce said. “I saw him split the defenders, I saw him go up, I went up with him. I got my hand on the ball, game over.”
Nets coach Jason Kidd said Brooklyn’s defense “bent a little” but didn’t break, thanks mostly to Pierce’s clutch play.
“Paul said it best, that’s why he’s here, to make plays,” Kidd said. “He didn’t have a great game, but it only takes one play to help a team win and that’s what he did tonight.”
Joe Johnson scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Nets. Marcus Thornton scored 17, Garnett had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the series, and Deron Williams added 13 points.
“Joe has kept us alive this whole series” Garnett said.
Amir Johnson fouled out with 20 points and 10 rebounds for Toronto, which trailed by 10 with just over six minutes remaining before storming back and having a chance to win it at the buzzer.
“They pushed us to the brink,” Livingston said.
Lowry finished with 28 points and DeMar DeRozan 18 for the Raptors, who fell to 0-2 in Game 7s in franchise history. Toronto lost Game 7 of the conference semifinals to Philadelphia in 2001.
“We were right there,” said a rueful Raptors coach Dwane Casey
The Raptors, who won the Atlantic Division and set a franchise record with 48 wins, have not won a playoff series since 2001, losing in all three appearances.
NOTES: The Nets outrebounded the Raptors 42-38. … Garnett’s double-double was his 86th in the playoffs, second only to San Antonio’s Tim Duncan. … The team that led at halftime won all seven games.
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