TORONTO - After a first-round playoff loss last season, the Brooklyn Nets as a franchise – top to bottom – made a vow to do to whatever necessary to take the next step.
Mission accomplished – barely, frantically, amazingly, yes, but mission accomplished!
The Nets went where no team in franchise history has gone before, winning a thrilling Game 7, 104-103, over the Toronto Raptors Sunday in Air Canada Centre to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Miami Heat.
Future Hall of Famers Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce combined on the biggest defensive play in Nets history.
KG poked the ball loose from Kyle Lowry with two seconds left. Lowry regained possession and put up a shot in the lane that Pierce blocked as time expired.
"That's why veteran guys are here," said Nets coach Jason Kidd, who became the first rookie coach ever to win a Game 7 road playoff game.
All of the reasons why the Nets believed they would be a force this postseason were on display on Sunday, as the Nets became the first team in these wild playoffs to win a Game 7 on the road.
The Nets were deeper, physically and emotionally tougher, and more experienced. They needed all those qualities to withstand a furious Toronto rally.
But on the game's last possession, the Nets defense was marvelous, forcing Lowry into traffic where Pierce waited.
"We said we were going to win this with a defense," said Pierce. "Clean block at the end."
Brooklyn will need to be even better to dethrone the two-time defending NBA champion Miami Heat. The Nets-Heat series begins Tuesday night in Miami but Brooklyn has reason to be confident.
This Nets team became the only squad in NBA history to sweep four regular-season games against the Heat since LeBron James and Chris Bosh joined forces with Dwyane Wade in Miami.
Joe Johnson, who killed the Raptors all series, scored 13 of his 26 points in the third quarter.
Garnett had his 86th playoff double-double (12 points, 11 rebounds). Pierce added 10 points, four rebounds and the block.
The Nets led 97-87 with less than six minutes to play but Toronto, behind 28 points from Lowry, rallied. The Nets, collectively, had more.
The bench, led by Andray Blatche (nine points, seven rebounds) and trade-deadline acquisition Marcus Thornton (17 points), bludgeoned the Raptors.
And Shaun Livingston, who hadn't attempted a free throw in two games, calmly drained two game-winning free throws with13 seconds left. Yes, this was a team win.
The Heat are rested. But the Nets were built for this moment. They have gone “All In,” and now they move on.