Sunday, May 4, 2014
The Truth prevails to book Nets' Miami trip
By Ohm Youngmisuk
TORONTO -- A scowling Paul Pierce strutted down the Air Canada Centre floor, doing his signature fist pump while unleashing a primal scream that would make even Kevin Garnett flinch.
This is what it's like to see a dinosaur roar above 20,547 fans in Toronto.
After starting this first-round series in Toronto with his Game 1 daggers, Pierce finished the Raptors in Game 7 with a series-clinching block on Kyle Lowry as time expired, sending the Brooklyn Nets into the second round with a breathtaking 104-103 victory.
In his accomplished career, the 36-year-old Pierce has authored some amazing playoff moments, but none quite like this. Known for delivering clutch playoff daggers, the old man nicknamed "The Truth" won a series looking like Dikembe Mutombo.
A finger wag was the only thing missing.
“Sometimes it’s about being in the right place at the right time,” Pierce said. “And I was there tonight.”
Paul Pierce was thrilled moments after Game 7, and for good reason.
This, indeed, is why the Nets brought Pierce here. Brooklyn acquired Pierce and Garnett to provide the kind of experience and leadership it didn’t have in a Game 7 loss to Chicago last season. Apparently, three first-round picks get you a first-round-winning block as well.
Sunday was a microcosm of Brooklyn's topsy-turvy season, in which the Nets experienced a wide range of highs and lows all in a pressure-packed Game 7. Jason Kidd’s team needed an unexpected Pierce block to keep it from a fourth-quarter meltdown that nearly saw the Raptors erase an 11-point deficit in the final frantic 8:43.
A first-round exit to a Raptors team that started the season looking to rebuild would have been disastrous.
But no matter how they got it done, the Nets get exactly what they were built for: a shot at LeBron James and the Miami Heat.
The Nets are now playing with house money, having nothing to lose against the defending champs.
“We know we can beat them,” said Joe Johnson, who shook off a slow start to score 13 of his team-high 26 points in the fourth quarter.
The Nets swept the four-game season series against Miami, which had never lost four straight to the same team in a regular season during the Big Three era. Heck, LeBron had never been swept 4-0 in the regular season by any opponent until this season.
While the veteran Nets aren’t afraid of Miami -- Pierce and Garnett relish playing James -- they also aren't going to get the same regular-season calls against James in the postseason.
James fouled out for the first time in the regular season since 2008 during a double-overtime loss to the Nets in early January at Barclays. And King James was mystified when he didn’t get a foul call after rookie Mason Plumlee blocked his dunk attempt at the rim with two seconds left in an 88-87 loss to the Nets at home in their most recent encounter.
After that Plumlee rejection in early April, few thought the Nets would need Pierce’s biggest block of his career to survive a Game 7 scare from the Raptors.
Perhaps feeling the pressure of Game 7, Deron Williams (13 points) missed 3 of 6 free throws in the last 4:12. Clinging to a 104-103 lead with 8.8 seconds remaining, the Nets nearly threw the game away when Shaun Livingston lobbed an inbound pass to Pierce in the corner. Terrence Ross stole the pass and was able to deflect it off Pierce out of bounds to give Toronto the ball.
Dwane Casey called a 20-second timeout to draw up one play to win it all. On the other end, Kidd, coaching in his first Game 7 as a head coach, instructed Garnett to trap whomever the Raptors went to on a pick-and-roll.
Garnett, who saved his best performance of the series for Game 7 (12 points, 11 rebounds and one big block), smothered Lowry, poking the ball out of the point guard’s hands. But Lowry split Garnett and Williams, and all that stood between Lowry and the basket was Pierce.
“Man, it was like it was going in slow motion,” Johnson said of the final play.
Labeled a dinosaur at the start of this series by a Toronto newspaper, Pierce jumped just high enough and used every inch of his 6-foot-7 frame to get a piece of the ball.
The rejection set off a wild celebration as the Nets looked like a Cinderella team in the NCAA tournament sprinting onto the floor after a buzzer-beater.
Kidd ran onto the court looking for anybody to hug and found Williams amid the chaos.
“I don’t know if that was my Jimmy V [moment],” Kidd deadpanned. “But I was caught [up] in the moment.”
A classic playoff moment delivered by Pierce in yet another Game 7. It wasn’t a pretty game for Pierce, who missed his only two shots of the fourth and scored just 10 points overall while struggling with five fouls.
Pierce said his desire to take and make clutch shots is part of his makeup. Apparently clutch blocks are also in his dino DNA.
“I don’t think he scored in the second half,” Garnett said accurately. “But when we needed a big play, he came up with the big play. ... Paul showed so much resilience in getting the big play at the end when we needed it.”
Pierce turned what looked like a forgettable game for him into an unforgettable Game 7.
“On the road, Game 7,” Pierce said of his ninth career Game 7. “You’re playing for your lives and you’ve got to sell out for your team. I really didn’t have a great offensive game. I was in foul trouble most of the night and sometimes you’ve got to find ways to help your ballclub win.
“I saw [Lowry] go up,” he added. “I went up with him, got my hand on the ball. Game over.”