Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE/Getty Images
Richard Jefferson posted a game-high 24 points and five rebounds on Friday night.
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J., May 4 (AP) -- Richard Jefferson's ankle injury was one of the many reasons the New Jersey Nets underachieved this season.
Watching Jefferson rise for the go-ahead basket and leap for the clinching steal was a reminder that he's healthy - and the Nets look pretty good, too.
Jefferson made a layup with 8.3 seconds left, stole a pass on the next possession, and New Jersey beat the Toronto Raptors 98-97 Friday night to win the first-round series 4-2.
The Nets won 10 of 13 down the stretch, knocked off the Atlantic Division champions and head to Cleveland to face LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference semifinals starting Sunday.
And New Jersey, in the second round for the fifth time in six years, believes it is much better than the average No. 6 seed.
"We're just a confident group,'' Jefferson said. "I wouldn't say that we felt we're as good as anybody, we just feel that if we're healthy, we can compete with anyone. That's not saying we can beat anyone, I said we can compete with anyone. That means if we do the things that we need to do, if we execute the way we execute and stay healthy, our record shows where we are and where our place is.''
Jason Kidd finished with 18 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds for the Nets, averaging a triple-double for the series. Jefferson scored 24 points and Vince Carter added 21 despite shooting 6-of-19 from the field.
"R.J. saved us on both ends of the floor,'' Carter said.
Chris Bosh had 23 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Raptors. But Jose Calderon's pass to him was intercepted by a leaping Jefferson, sending the Raptors to their ninth straight road postseason loss.
"We executed the play we wanted,'' Bosh said. "Richard Jefferson made a super athletic play. If that ball gets over him, we probably win the game.''
After four dismal games in New Jersey this season, Bosh was terrific this time, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter. He banked in a jumper with 47 seconds left, giving the Raptors a 97-96 lead.
But after a timeout, Jefferson drove into the lane and rose over Bosh for his layup. The Raptors then tried to find Bosh cutting to the basket, but Jefferson leaped to grab Calderon's pass and put the Nets back into the conference semifinals. They lost to Miami in that round last year.
"I think the play Coach called, that's the beauty of this team,'' Kidd said. "We don't care who scores or who gets the last play. I thought that was a great call for Coach to go to R.J. to put pressure on the defense and R.J. made a heck of a shot.''
Toronto got inspired efforts from banged-up point guards T.J. Ford and Calderon, who combined for 33 points. But the best point guard on the floor, as usual, was Kidd, who averaged 14 points, 13.2 assists and 10 rebounds to became the first player to average a triple-double for a series since he did it against Boston in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals.
Ford and Calderon both were forced to leave Game 5 with injuries. Calderon, usually the backup, started because Ford hadn't practiced since sustaining neck, shoulder and arm injuries in a collision with Carter early in Tuesday's game.
Calderon sprained his ankle in the final seconds of that one, but told coach Sam Mitchell he could play after taking part in the morning shootaround.
Ford had 19 points in 15 minutes and Calderon scored 14. Andrea Bargnani had 17 points and seven rebounds for the Raptors, who were in the postseason for the first time since 2002.
"We were one play too short,'' Mitchell said.
Mitchell said before the game that the start was important after the Nets dominated the first quarters in Games 3 and 4, which were never close. This time, Toronto shot 50 percent and limited New Jersey to 37.5 percent in the first 12 minutes, which ended in a 21-all tie.
Ford entered late in the first quarter and was 6-of-7 for 13 points in the second, helping the Raptors take a 46-43 lead into halftime.
The Nets trailed 65-64 with under 3 minutes left in the third quarter before Kidd found Jefferson with an alley-oop pass on the break, made a pair of free throws, and set up Jason Collins for a layup and a five-point lead with 1:51 remaining. He assisted on Bostjan Nachbar's 3-pointer with 21 seconds to go in the period as New Jersey brought a 75-68 lead to the fourth.
Notes: NBA commissioner David Stern said before the game that the Nets are doing fine at the Meadowlands but they are still moving to Brooklyn. ... The Raptors finished 0-5 in New Jersey this season. ... Nachbar, who missed a potential winning 3-pointer in Game 5, scored 15 points for the Nets.