The Brooklyn Nets got huge performances from their veterans and took a 1-0 series lead over the Toronto Raptors Saturday afternoon with a 94-87 win.
Paul Pierce was massive down the stretch, scoring nine points and keeping the Raptors' comeback attempts at arm's length. He finished with 15 points, Joe Johnson finished with 24 points, eight rebounds and four assists on 8-13 shooting. Kevin Garnett struggled on both ends, scoring five points and allowing Jonas Valanciunas to finish with 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Toronto All-Star DeMar DeRozan struggled in his first career playoff appearance, shooting 3-13 and scoring 14 points (he averaged 22.7 on the season, good for the ninth-most in the league). Kyle Lowry had 22 points, eight assists and seven rebounds and carried the Raptors for most of the game, but his efforts were not enough.
The Nets won the first half 50-46, led by Deron Williams' 18 first half points on 17 shots. The Raptors turned the ball over 12 times and made just 12 shots from the field before halftime, so it was pretty astonishing they were down just four. The Nets were leading as much as 12 points early in the first quarter before Lowry led the Raptors back into the game with 15 first-half points, including back-to-back three-pointers when the Raps needed it most.
After halftime, the teams' offenses slowed to a crawl and both of their shooting percentages dropped to under 40 percent. Valanciunas continued his strong work on the glass (13 points and 17 rebounds at the end of the third quarter), but the biggest moment of the third quarter came a few minutes in, when a power malfunction caused the shot clocks to turn off. Some dude with a stop watch became the shot clock and the PA announcer had to count down the seconds. It was odd.
That dilemma moved to the back burner when the Raptors climbed back into the game at the end of the third quarter with a huge, buzzer-beating three-pointer for Lowry.
Five straight points from Patrick Patterson, with a three-pointer and a dunk on back-to-back possessions, tied the game, setting us up for a fun stretch run. The Toronto backcourt of Greivis Vasquez and Lowry, as shown above, was working wonders on both sides of the ball; the pair scored, distributed and stifled Williams and Shaun Livingston.
With four minutes left in the game, the Raptors offense went cold, and Garnett and Pierce -- who had played very poorly by their standards for the entire game -- each hit big shots to give the Nets a six point lead with less than two minutes to go. None were bigger than a turnaround 20-footer Pierce hit to give the Nets a nine-point lead with less than a minute to go, which iced the game.
The teams will play next on Tuesday night back in Toronto. The Nets will fly home to Brooklyn in between, and we'll see if the Raptors' young bucks can bounce back against the cagey veterans on the other side.