Avert 'disaster" as Raptors nearly overcome late 14-point deficit
By John Torenli, Sports Editor
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The game clock at Air Canada Centre wound down like a sundial Tuesday night as the Brooklyn Nets desperately clung to an ever-slimming lead.
Fortunately for coach Jason Kidd's beleaguered, injury-plagued unit, the final buzzer finally sounded just after a pair of near-misses by the Toronto Raptors, leaving the Nets with a much-needed 102-100 victory, ending their season-high five-game losing streak.
"Well it sort of seems like we wanted time to run out instead of going out there and putting the stamp on the thing and that's what we have to do," noted a relieved Paul Pierce after finishing with 16 points, four rebounds and four assists during Kidd's third win in 12 tries as an NBA head coach.
"We have to continue to do what we do and push the lead, and not wait for the clock to run out," Pierce added. "I thought we were tentative in our offense, we turned the ball over and, fortunately, we built such a big lead, or if it was any closer we would have lost it."
After leading by as many as 14 points with just over three minutes to play, the Nets, spearheaded by center Andray Blatche's 24 points, watched helplessly as the resilient Raptors clawed back into contention with a game-ending 14-1 run. Amir Johnson had a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner in the waning seconds, but misfired.
Former Knick Steve Novak appeared in perfect position for a game-tying tip-in, but it somehow eluded the basket as the Nets breathed a collective sigh of relief that could be heard from Toronto to Downtown Brooklyn.
Though Pierce called the final three minutes "a disaster", Kidd relished the victory and his team's ability to withstand Toronto's furious finish.
''Those guys in that locker room finally said they'd had enough,'' the neophyte coach noted. ''There's a bunch of guys in there with pride and they understood what they had to do tonight.''
At 4-10, the Nets stand only two games behind the first-place Raptors (6-8) in the mediocre-at-best Atlantic Division entering Wednesday night's home contest against the Los Angeles Lakers.
''It was great to get a win tonight,'' Joe Johnson said following a strong 21-point, six-rebound, four-assist effort. ''We'll put this game behind us and move on to the Lakers. We know we're going to have a tough one tomorrow at home.''
Having entered the game with an NBA-worst minus-67 third-quarter aggregate, the Nets finally had a productive 12 minutes coming out of halftime, outscoring the Raptors 26-25 in the period.
They improved to a perfect 4-0 when winning the third quarter this season, and will now try to post back-to-back victories for the first time this season.
Kidd, who insisted the Nets must perform better in the paint to get back in the win column, watched his team outmuscle Toronto en route to a 28-10 advantage in points along the interior.
Blatche, starting in place of injured All-Star center Brook Lopez, made 10-of-16 shots, copped five rebounds, picked up a pair of steals and blocked two shots to lead the Nets' inside attack.
Kevin Garnett added 12 points and six boards and Shaun Livingston, starting for the hobbled Deron Williams, dished out seven assists as Brooklyn posted its first victory since Johnson's buzzer-beating overtime runner in Phoenix on Nov. 15.
Jason Terry (knee) and Andrei Kirilenko (back) continued to sit out for the Nets, who have yet to enjoy a clear view of the $180 million-plus roster general manager Billy King and owner Mikhail Prokhorov put together this past offseason.
In a pregame interview with the YES Network, King intimated that he still had plenty of faith in Kidd as the team's coach, and did mention the team's injury woes as a potential reason for Brooklyn's slow start.
"We're still together. Guys still believe in Jason as their leader," King said. "But injuries have taken their toll. That's not an excuse, it's a reality."
Nothing But Net: F Garnett passed Hall of Fame point guard Gary Payton for ninth place on the career games played list by participating in his 1,336th NBA contest. ... G Williams, C Lopez, F Kirilenko and G Terry have combined to sit out 20 games thus far this season. Williams remains doubtful for Wednesday night's game against the Lakers at the Barclays Center, though he did intimate earlier this week that he was aiming to return in that game if his re-injured ankle responded well to treatment. Lopez, who remained in Brooklyn with Williams when the Nets traveled to Toronto, is also a long shot to make his return against Los Angeles. ... After hosting the Lakers, the Nets will travel to Houston on Friday and visit Memphis on Saturday.