The fans in Brooklyn once again had a tough time being seated for a 7 p.m. tip-off before Game 6, a situation that is the polar opposite of the love the Raptors have received from an entire nation of fans embracing the team during its first postseason run in six years.
But none of that had any effect on the Nets’ ability to focus.
Down three games to two and facing elimination, Brooklyn’s veterans brought an intensity level and a will to win that a much younger Raptors squad was simply unable to match. The Nets led by as many as 16 points before the first period was finished, and the lead reached 26 before Brooklyn settled on a 97-83 final that forced a Game 7 in Toronto on Sunday.
The veterans are the strength of this Nets team, and two of them made a point to set the tone early. Joe Johnson and Paul Pierce each scored nine first quarter points on a combined 7-of-9 shooting, and Brooklyn as a team was red-hot in finishing the opening frame shooting better than 68 percent.
Deron Williams has been largely missing in this series in the eyes of Nets fans, but he came through in a big way when the team’s season was on the line. Not only did Williams finish with a team-high 23 points on 8-of-16 shooting to go along with five rebounds and four assists, but he hit plenty of big shots after being noticeably hobbled by an ankle injury he sustained in the third.
Jason Kidd gets some credit here too for tweaking things, starting Alan Anderson in place of Shaun Livingston, and playing Andray Blatche almost 21 minutes, while rookie Mason Plumlee was all but dropped from the rotation.
The Raptors put together a couple of big runs during the second half, which might give them something to build on as they head back to Toronto for the deciding game in the series. They cut it to 10 twice in the game’s final five minutes, but Brooklyn was able to stabilize each time, before Williams hit a dagger of a three with 1:13 remaining to seal the win for the Nets.
The home court advantage that mattered little to the Nets in Brooklyn may be of a much larger benefit to these young Raptors in Game 7. But a team full of veteran star players is extremely difficult to eliminate no matter the venue, and Toronto will have to mature extremely quickly in order to put the type of effort together it will take to knock off these Nets, and advance to the second round.