Pierce, Nets free Raptors from cage in Gm. 2

TORONTO –- Paul Pierce might have felt like a fossil, sitting nearly 10 minutes from the late third quarter through much of the fourth due to foul trouble.

And despite the Nets’ virtually extinct defense in the fourth quarter, Pierce still had a packed Toronto crowd holding its collective breath with 24.9 seconds left.

The young Raptors were clinging to a two-point lead (and their season) when Pierce caught the ball in the corner by himself. He launched a 3-pointer as Raptors fans let out a gasp in hopes it would not be another fourth-quarter dagger piercing through their hearts.

Pierce’s clutch DNA, though, went missing in Game 2. The Raptors survived and evened the series at 1-1 with a 100-95 win. And the Nets let the Raptors off the hook.

Yes, the Nets left Canada with what they came for -- stealing a game and home-court advantage. But the Nets had a chance to choke the air out of the Raptors and seize control of the series.

Not only did the Nets turn this into a series again, they literally stood and watched DeMar DeRozan go through his playoff baptism.

DeRozan, the head baby Raptor, matured quickly, scoring 30 points, with 17 coming in the fourth quarter. It was DeRozan the Nets absolutely didn’t want to see. And now DeRozan knows how to take over a playoff game. And the young, inexperienced Raptors know how to win a playoff game.

And the Nets know they have themselves to blame.

“Too many touches for them in the paint, too many paint points, and we didn’t rebound,” Pierce lamented. “We gave them everything they wanted, 50 points in the paint, and [19] offensive rebounds.

“We were a soft team tonight.”

Pierce knows the Nets let a prime chance to shorten this series slip away.

Despite Pierce being saddled with his fourth foul at the 3:36 mark of the third, the Nets opened a 69-64 lead with 11:20 remaining in the game.

The Raptors (21 turnovers) couldn’t stop turning the ball over like they did in Game 1. Kyle Lowry was having an off night, scoring just six points and missing 7 of 8 shots through three quarters. DeRozan had 13 points, and Jonas Valanciunas totaled 11 points and 11 rebounds entering the fourth -- all numbers the Nets could live with.

The game was there for the taking for the Nets. Instead, Brooklyn stopped playing defense. Jason Kidd watched his team surrender 36 points and 75 percent shooting (12-of-16 shooting) to the Raptors in the fourth quarter.

DeRozan looked like Vince Carter at times, soaring through the lane for a monster dunk early in the quarter, and the Raptors were off and scoring.

“You can’t have fourth quarters like that,” Kevin Garnett said. “Thirty-six points, that’s too many points for anybody -- preschool, little league, YMCA, Raptors. Too many points. Fourth quarters are supposed to be our best quarters defensively.”

Fortunately for Brooklyn, Toronto didn’t play much defense, either. Shortly after Pierce checked back into the game with 5:44 left, the Nets fell behind 83-78. But Andrei Kirilenko scored, then Pierce scored and was fouled. His three-point play tied the game at 83-83 with 3:48 left. Toronto fans had to think they were going to relive Game 1, when Pierce scored nine straight points in the final three minutes to steal the opener.

But Lowry nailed a pull-up jumper. Then DeRozan grew up before our very eyes, burying a 20-foot pull-up jumper and an 18-foot fadeaway over Joe Johnson. The Nets kept it close, but the Raptors answered every time. And Pierce (2-for-11 shooting, seven points) didn't have it this time.

And so now the series is tied 1-1, changing the narrative.

Entering Game 2, all the questions were about how the young Raptors would react after losing the first game and if they would be able to overcome the Nets’ enormous advantage in experience.

Now, the series shifts to Brooklyn, and the Raptors have tasted playoff victory.

Garnett knows the Nets haven’t played their best basketball yet.

But that didn't stop him from already beginning to plant the seed with the Brooklyn fans to create as hostile an environment as possible for Toronto.

“Now we’ve just got to take care of home,” Garnett said. “We know it’s going to be a rowdy environment, like it should be.

“I don’t know if you can say, ‘F Brooklyn,’ and then come into Brooklyn,” he added in reference to Toronto general manager Masai Ujiri’s now infamous pep-rally cry. “So we’re about to see what it’s like.”

The Raptors have seen what it’s like to win a playoff game. And that could be very dangerous for the Nets.