Saturday, April 19, 2014
Old man Pierce delivers playoff daggers
By Ohm Youngmisuk
TORONTO -- Paul Pierce has played in 137 playoff games, pressure-packed Game 7s and has experienced the intense spotlight of the NBA Finals.
But he experienced a postseason first on Saturday in Toronto.
The shot clocks malfunctioned and both the Brooklyn Nets and Toronto Raptors had to play most of the second half of Game 1 as if it were on somebody's driveway. The public-address announcer called out the time of the shot clock in intervals -- 24, 10, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 -- followed by "horn" if the shot clock expired.
It was a bizarre scene in an NBA playoff game.
Paul Pierce was "classic 'Truth'" in Game 1, according to Kevin Garnett.
"Well, I don’t remember if I ever played [in a playoff game without the shot clock], since I am a dinosaur," Pierce said with a smirk. "It’s been so long."
Pierce was sarcastically referring to a Toronto Sun headline that billed this first-round series as "RAPTORS VS. DINOSAURS," with Pierce and Kevin Garnett on the cover.
So far, it’s Fossils 1, Baby Raptors 0.
That’s because the painful "Truth" for Toronto is that its inexperience and the Nets’ vast wealth of experience decided Game 1 and set the tone for this best-of-seven series.
In his first playoff game as a Net, Pierce delivered a vintage fourth-quarter performance, burying four of five shots and scoring nine of his 15 points to help the Nets steal Game 1 in Toronto 94-87.
"[I] just get that feeling in a game," Pierce said of relishing the fourth quarter and hitting big postseason shots. "I’ve been in that situation a number of times. I don’t get rattled in fourth quarters down the stretch in playoff settings. I have been in pretty much every playoff setting that you can imagine."
The sixth-seeded Nets entered with an overwhelmingly decided advantage in postseason experience -- 570 combined career playoff games on their roster to just 156 for Toronto.
And that experience of having been here before revealed itself in a major way in Game 1, just as the Nets had hoped it would. Pierce, Garnett and head coach Jason Kidd walked off the bus and into the Air Canada Centre with steely game faces on, and the rest of the Nets could feel the intensity.
"Oh man, I’ve [seen] a big difference," guard Alan Anderson said when asked about Pierce and Garnett’s demeanor compared to usual. "A lot more just seriousness A lot more serious."
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While the Nets were all business, the Raptors’ playoff inexperience was revealing itself in different manners. In the days leading up to Game 1, the Nets seemed to be genuinely amused by the talk of them tanking to draw Toronto and the Raptors even having to talk about it and entertaining the notion. Anything that might take the Raptors away from being focused on just winning was good to the Nets.
Then, Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri couldn’t contain his enthusiasm, shouting out "F--- Brooklyn!" at a pregame fan rally. By halftime, the GM was holding a conference with reporters to issue a quick apology.
Ujiri might’ve been dropping more expletives when the shot clock malfunctioned. The last thing the young Raptors needed was for an unforeseen obstacle like that to rattle them.
"Technical difficulties," said Toronto’s rising center Jonas Valanciunas, who had 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Both teams were trying to deal with the difficult situation of not having the shot clock available. The Raptors were beginning to get settled in as they tied the game at 73 with 6:25 remaining against mostly Nets reserves.
Game 1 was up for grabs as 19,800 Toronto fans were ready to explode.
That’s when Kidd re-inserted starters Pierce, Garnett and Deron Williams. Not long after that, it was game over for the Raptors.
Pierce found Shaun Livingston for a jumper. Later, Joe Johnson buried a floater. Then, Garnett drilled an eight-footer that gave the Nets a 79-76 lead with less than four minutes to go.
Pierce then saw his opportunity to finish the Raptors. He sank a 3-pointer to push the lead to six. Then came a driving layup followed by a 19-foot jumper. The final dagger was a 20-foot turnaround, fadeaway jumper over Patrick Patterson, who could only shake his head in frustration as the Nets took an 88-81 lead with 51.9 seconds to go.
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Garnett pumped his fist at half court after that Pierce 3-pointer. He knew exactly what was happening -- Pierce was taking over the game.
"Countless," Garnett said of how many times he has seen games like this from his old Boston Celtics teammate.
No shot clock. Nearly 20,000 fans screaming at the top of their lungs at him. The opposing GM cursing about the team. A newspaper calling him a dinosaur.
Consider all of this fossil fuel for Pierce.
"I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road," Pierce said. "Try to stay calm and bring my calmness to the game and try to influence the rest of the guys."
Pierce and Garnett spent so much of the season pumping up and verbalizing their support for Williams with the knowledge that they would need Williams at this stage of the season.
D-Will responded with 24 points, playing Kyle Lowry evenly and supplying stingy defense late that helped hold the Raptors point guard to only four of his 22 points in the fourth quarter.
But Kidd convinced Pierce and Garnett to come to Brooklyn in a trade last summer to show younger players like Williams how to win a game like this one in a tight fourth quarter.
The 2014 playoffs have officially begun, and Pierce got it started doing what he always does -- deliver fourth-quarter daggers.