Truth hurts Raptors with latest big shot

NEW YORK -- There was no need for a conversation.

Jason Kidd seemed certain Paul Pierce was going to miss Monday night’s game against the Toronto Raptors due to a sore right shoulder. But the 36-year-old veteran told his coach otherwise.

In Pierce’s mind, there was never any doubt. Given what was at stake, he was going to play.

"I told [Kidd], 'I'm playing.' It’s as simple as that," Pierce said. "He asked me, and I told him, 'Yeah. I'm in.'

“I knew the implications of this game. Maybe if it was a different type of game [I would have sat out], but this was one of our biggest games of the year against a division rival. There was a lot on the line, so you can always pencil me into those types of games."

Then, as he has done many times throughout his career, Pierce made the big shot in the big moment.

And just like that, the Brooklyn Nets are right back in the thick of it in the race for the Atlantic Division title.

With 1:14 remaining and the shot clock winding down, Pierce snapped a 94-all tie with a 3-pointer from the right wing, and the Nets went on to squeak by the Raptors 101-97 in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Barclays Center that provided a playoff-caliber atmosphere.

“I said it before, he’s a competitor,” Kidd said of Pierce. “No matter what position he plays, no matter what his health condition is, he’s out there trying to help the team -- and he was big tonight.”

The Nets (32-30) now have won eight straight games at home and moved within three games of the Raptors (35-27) in the division standings with 20 games remaining.

Brooklyn and Toronto split their season series at two wins apiece, but the Raptors hold the second tiebreaker by virtue of their 8-3 record against the Atlantic compared to the Nets’ 7-5 mark versus division foes.

Still, there is hope -- hope that probably wouldn’t have existed had they lost Monday night.

“It was big,” said Pierce, who scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter. “I was telling the guys before the game, if we lose this game, there’s probably no chance we have a chance to win the Atlantic Division. ... So it was a huge game knowing that we still have a chance to win the division and still have a chance to move up as a seed. Plus, this could be a team we could face in the first round.”

Remember when Pierce looked stunned as he sat at the podium after being traded?

Seems like ages ago. Throughout the final period, he was fired up, encouraging the 17,351 fans in attendance as they encouraged him.

Pierce’s heart might always be in Boston -- the place where he spent the first 15 years of his career -- but Monday night his mind was in Brooklyn, clearly focused on the task at hand.

“It was unbelievable, man,” Pierce said of the atmosphere. “Now we know. You Brooklyn fans, you can’t go below that anymore. That’s the expectation. Our crowd was unbelievable tonight. That’s probably the best I’ve heard all year. It was a playoff atmosphere; they were in it from start to finish. And I really feed off those types of crowds, it brings energy, it brings momentum to your ballclub and we love it.”

The Nets went into Monday night’s game knowing they wouldn’t have Andrei Kirilenko (sprained right ankle). And just minutes before tipoff, Kevin Garnett was scratched from the lineup, his back having tightened up. But Brooklyn was able to prevail despite falling behind by as many as 12 in the first quarter and losing a 13-point lead in the third.

Deron Williams scored 12 of his 18 points in the second half, while Shaun Livingston also scored 18 points and came up with a huge steal with 25 seconds left. Joe Johnson added 14 points, while Alan Anderson came off the bench to notch 11. The Nets shot 48.6 percent from the field and finished 11-for-20 from 3-point range after starting 1-for-7.

They turned 16 Toronto turnovers into 18 points and were outrebounded only 37-30, which is quite good for them. Kidd decided to play Mason Plumlee and Andray Blatche at the same time -- something he never does -- in order to negate the Raptors’ size advantage. And it worked. Sorta.

“We tried to battle back,” Williams said. “We didn’t start off the game well. Our defense was nonexistent, and they were kind of getting whatever they wanted in that first quarter; pick-and-rolls were hurting us. We made some adjustments, really just played a little harder, gave more effort, and I think that was the difference in the second half.”

The Nets wanted to win Monday night’s game because they felt like they gave away their latest loss to the Raptors on Jan. 27, when Williams had two turnovers in the final minute, which resulted in a 104-103 defeat.

"It was big," Plumlee said. “Just how we gave the game away last time, and that’s what we did, we gave it away. We’ve played them close every time. It could be a potential matchup in the playoffs, so it was big for us to set a tone.”

Pierce described his game-winning shot.

“I drove the ball at first, found D-Will, and I actually thought he had a shot,” Pierce said. “Once he drove again, I just flared out to the 3-point line, so saw the shot clock winding down and I was able to make the shot off his penetration.”

Just how has he been able to make the big shot in the big moment again and again?

“I think it’s just confidence. I’ve been that way since I was 2 years old,” Pierce joked. “I remember my first game winner at 8 months old, so it just grew from there.”