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Sunday, May 4, 2014
Rapid Reaction: Nets 104, Raptors 103

By Mike Mazzeo



Bring it on, LeBron.

South Beach, meet Brighton Beach.

The Brooklyn Nets eliminated the Toronto Raptors 104-103 on Sunday in Game 7 of their first-round Eastern Conference playoff series.

Paul Pierce delivered in the moment of Truth, blocking Kyle Lowry’s layup attempt as time expired. The Nets led by as many as 12, but nearly blew a six-point advantage in the final minute.

But Pierce (10 points in 25 minutes), who has played in nine Game 7s, would not allow that to happen.

“We said we were gonna win this with our defense,” Pierce said. “It was a clean block.”

The Nets advance to Round 2, where they will meet LeBron James and the two-time defending champion Miami Heat.

In 2013-14, Brooklyn became the only team to ever beat James four times during a single regular season in his entire career.

This is the matchup everyone wanted. Now, they get it.

Oh, and Andray Blatche’s guarantees worked out. Exhale.

What it means: The Nets won their first Game 7 in franchise history -- avoiding a potential $190 million failure of a season in the process. Jason Kidd became the first rookie coach to ever win a road Game 7. He was the 19th rookie coach to try, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. Brooklyn is one of 24 teams to win a road Game 7 out of 118 that have tried. Now, the Nets get a chance to prove their regular-season dominance against the Heat was no fluke.

Joe Jesus: Joe Johnson, who came in shooting just 32.8 percent in his previous four Games 7s, erupted in the fourth quarter, scoring 11 straight points for his team at one point. Johnson, Brooklyn’s most consistent offensive player during the series (20.8 points on 54.1 percent shooting in the previous six games), finished with 26 points on 11-for-25 shooting. It had to feel good for Johnson, who, hampered by plantar fasciitis in his left foot, had gone 2-for-14 in Game 7 against the Chicago Bulls last season.

As for the others: Kevin Garnett was clutch, collecting a double-double (12 points and 11 rebounds) in 25 minutes. Deron Williams wasn’t much of a factor, scoring 13 points on 3-for-8 shooting in 32 minutes. He missed a free throw in the final minute that allowed the Raptors to come back.

The difference: The Nets got the stop they needed after throwing away an inbounds pass on the previous possession. They turned the ball over just eight times all game. They went 8-for-23 from 3-point range, while Toronto went 4-for-13 from downtown. DeMar DeRozan and Lowry combined for 46 points for the Raptors in a losing cause. Brooklyn even won the rebounding battle, 42-38.

Stepping up: The Nets’ bench, which had averaged just 27.5 points in the first six games of the series, had 27 in the first half. Marcus Thornton, who had just 17 points in the first six games of the series, had 14 in the first half. Shaun Livingston added eight on a perfect 4-for-4 shooting. In all, the bench had 38 and Thornton had 17.

Big break: Amir Johnson destroyed the Nets inside, scoring 12 points in the first quarter and a playoff career-high 18 by the end of the first half. But he picked up his fifth foul just 1:55 into the third quarter, which forced him to the bench. Johnson fouled out with 7:53 remaining. He finished with 20 points and 10 rebounds in 22 minutes. On that same play, Joe Johnson came up hobbling and Garnett picked up a technical foul.

Up next: Game 1 in Miami on Tuesday night.