- Mike Mazzeo, ESPN Staff Writer
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- “That’s why they got me here!” Brooklyn Nets forward Paul Pierce yelled after draining a turnaround jumper in the final minute that gave his team a seven-point lead over the Toronto Raptors in Game 1 on Saturday afternoon.
It was the final dagger Pierce stuck in the Raptors and their raucous fans late in the final period.
Pierce ended up scoring nine straight points down the stretch, as Brooklyn beat Toronto 94-87 to take a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 first-round series.
The Truth definitely relishes playing the role of villain in opposing arenas -- especially in the postseason.
“I love the whole excitement around playoff basketball,” said Pierce, who has averaged 20.9 points in 137 career playoff games. “Not a lot of guys really thrive in playoff pressure situations. I’m really a guy that thrives in that setting. It’s just gets your juices are flowing.
“You play all-year long, you work so hard, you come to the gym everyday and it’s like OK now this is what you really play for: these playoff moments. It just rejuvenates you. It’s like the sun comes up, the weather’s getting warmer. It just makes you a happier person.”
Pierce didn’t seem too happy when he first arrived in Brooklyn. It was tough for him to let go after spending the first 15 years of his career with the Boston Celtics.
The 36-year-old did not return to Boston until Jan. 26.
“You lay down your seeds and grow roots and blossom in one place and then all of a sudden they put you in a pot and move you after so long. It was emotional,” said Pierce, who called it the toughest game he ever had to play in his career at the time. He finished with just six points.
“I hate the fact that if I play some more after this year I gotta keep going back there, because it’s always going to be that way. No matter times I go back. So many memories there, so many years there. I don’t think it’s every happened a player playing that many years with one franchise and have to leave. But there’s nothing you can do.”
Pierce seemed to be able to move on after that. After the Celtics game, Pierce was averaging just 12.8 points on 40.4 percent shooting.
From then on, aided by his move to power forward in 2014, Pierce averaged 14.2 points on 50.3 percent shooting.
His leadership was vital for the Nets in their turnaround.
“I think it was important for Paul to get some closure,” Kevin Garnett said. “When a team lets you go or you’re removed from a team, you want to know you did some good for that city, and you left your mark on that city. I think that was important for him to see that, to feel the appreciation, the gratification not only from the organization but from the fans.
“I thought Boston was over the top professional like they’ve always been, first class and they showed him that. Obviously I feel like they would’ve [something I can’t understand)]but more importantly, I think yeah, it was important for him just to close that chapter and move on a little bit but more important to see the gratification and appreciation at the end of the day.”