Toronto, ON, Canada (4E Sports) – Paul Pierce showed veteran composure down the stretch, scoring nine of his 15 points in the final three minutes, to carry the Brooklyn Nets to a 94-87 win over the Toronto Raptors Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference first-round series at Air Canada Centre.
Pierce’s scoring outburst sparked a 19-11 run that helped the Nets draw first blood against the Raptors, who are in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
After Greivis Vasquez gave the Raptors a 76-75 lead with a triple, the Nets responded with a 7-0 run capped by Pierce’s three-point shot for an 82-76 lead.
Pierce scored six more points to compensate for five points from Vasquez and Jonas Valanciunas and give the Nets a seven-point cushion with 55 seconds left.
The Nets then sank all of their six free throws in the last 22 seconds to seal the victory.
Joe Johnson and Deron Williams contributed 24 points apiece while Shaun Livingston added 10 for the Nets.
Kevin Garnett was the only starter not in double figures for the Nets as he was held scoreless in the first half for the first time in his 132-game playoff career. He finished with five points and eight boards.
The Atlantic Division champion Raptors received 22 points and eight assists from Kyle Lowry and a 17-point, 18-rebound effort out of Valanciunas.
Valanciunas became the second Raptor to post a double-double in their playoff debut. The other was Tracy McGrady, who recorded 25 points and 10 rebounds on April 23, 2000 in a loss to the New York Knicks.
DeMar DeRozan, Toronto’s leading scorer during the regular season, finished with 14 points but went 3-of-13 from the floor as the Raptors shot just 39.4 percent from the field and committed 19 turnovers.
Earlier, Toronto Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri apologized for his disparaging remarks towards the Nets during a fan rally outside the Air Canada Centre prior to Saturday’s Game 1 of the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal series.
Ujiri concluded his speech by shouting “F— Brooklyn!,” which drew a thunderous ovation from the outdoor crowd.
However, the former NBA Executive of the Year issued an apology later, saying it was a wrong choice of words.
“This thing is really not about me, it’s about the players and the playoffs. So just trying to get the crowd out there rattled. It was the wrong choice of words,” Ujiri said.
While he apologized for his remark, Ujiri still maintained his dislike for the Nets, who were accused of purposely losing their last five games to drop down to the Eastern Conference’s No. 6 seed in order to face the Raptors in the opening round.
“You know how I feel,” he said about the Nets. “I don’t like them, but I apologize.”