By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
That was the message that Toronto Raptors General Manager Masai Ujiri gave to Toronto fans at a rally outside of the arena before Game 1 on Saturday. It was only the latest sign of disrespect toward the Brooklyn Nets coming out of Canada.
From Raptors guard Terrence Ross declaring he hoped his team would face the Nets in the first round, to accusations that the Nets tanked in the final week of the season just to play the Raptors, to The Toronto Sun headlining an article on their back page “Raptors Vs. Dinosaurs,” the Nets haven’t gotten the respect they deserve.
Brooklyn’s team has clearly used contempt towards them as motivation—though the Nets dnied this during a postgame press conference after they beat the Raptors 94-87 on Saturday to take a 1-0 advantage to the first round of the NBA playoffs.
Paul Pierce, one of the oldest “dinosaurs” on the team, helped to lead the Nets to victory by scoring nine consecutive points during the fourth quarter.
"That's what they brought me here for," Pierce screamed on the court after he hit a 3-pointer with 2:58 left in the game to put the Nets up 84-78. “This is what they brought me here for, for these moments, my experience in the playoffs,” he added after the game.
Experience played a big role in the Nets' victory over the younger and more athletic Raptors as Pierce allowed Deron Williams and Joe Johnson, who finished with 24 points each, to take control of the game early on. The Nets established a 29-21 lead in the first quarter as the pair scored 19 points combined.
Shaun Livingston made some key shots down the stretch to keep the Nets ahead, but it was Pierce, who had just six points heading into the fourth quarter, that took over the game down the stretch.
“It was just emotions flying high,” Pierce said. “Playoffs, close games, taking shots, making some shots...I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road. It's really fun to go on the road and beat a team. I think it's more gratifying than winning at home."
The Nets managed to avoid distractions, from the crowd that Ujiri whipped into a frenzy, to the shot clock that broke in the third quarter. The latter could have had a major effect on the game, but it never became an issue, even as announcer Herbie Kuhn had to call out the shot clock during the last five seconds.
"That was weird," Nets guard Shaun Livingston admitted afterward. "It's like (playing in the) backyard, somebody calling it out, but we got used to it. We understood the conditions were going to be rough on the road. So it was just another factor we had to deal with."
The Nets forced 17 turnovers and only committed eight themselves. They never fell behind by more than four points throughout the game, even as they missed 19 consecutive 3-point attempts, because their defense was able to hold Toronto to just 39.4 percent shooting.
“We’re 13-0 when we hold teams under 40 percent,” Williams said. “Any time you do that you give yourselves a chance to win. Good defense and taking care of the ball down the stretch, that’s why we got the win.”
At halftime, Ujiri apologized for his comment to the fans. “You know how I feel. I don’t like them, but I apologize," he said. The damage had been done, though, and a motivated Nets team took advantage of the younger and inexperienced Raptors.
Now the Nets have a 1-0 advantage that guarantees they will at least split the first two games in Toronto. They play again on Tuesday night (the Raptors have already issued a statement promising shot clocks). Then they’ll head back to Barclays Center on Friday, where they have won 16 of their last 18 games.
“Those guys in our locker room are all motivated to win,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We know that Toronto is going to be very aggressive to try to get a split out of this.”