The Nets were firmly in control for most of the second half of Game 7 in Toronto, but it all began to come crashing down with less than a minute left.
A double-digit advantage was down to six, when Kevin Garnett committed a loose ball foul on a rebound with 56 seconds left that put Patrick Patterson on the line, with the chance to cut into the lead while no time elapsed.
He sank both free throws, and the lead was now four.
Garnett fouled Kyle Lowry on the Raptors’ next possession, once again a terrible decision in that situation, giving Toronto more free throws while the clock remained stopped.
Lowry hit both, and the lead was down to two.
Deron Williams was intentionally fouled on Brooklyn’s next chance, but he was able to hit just one of two free throws. Lowry drove and got a runner to bank home, and it was a one-point game with 16 seconds left.
After two free throws from Shaun Livingston, it was Terrence Ross getting to the rim for the quick two, a shot the Nets were happy to allow because seconds ticked off, and they still retained the lead. But Brooklyn failed to get the ball inbounds twice, first needing a timeout to avoid a five-second call, and then turning it over thanks to a bad pass from Livingston and an incredible defensive play from Ross.
With 6.2 seconds left, the Raptors were down one with possession, and had one final chance.
Lowry to the basket was an understandable call by Dwane Casey, but the Nets seemed to know it was coming. As multiple defenders swarmed, Lowry was still able to get through and get a shot up in the lane, but Paul Pierce was right there, and got the clean block with his left hand as time expired.
That’s how close this series was — it came down to the closing seconds of a seventh game in order to be decided. And if you look at all 11 of the games between these two teams over the course of the season, they couldn’t have possibly been more evenly matched.
Final cumulative score in 11 total games: Nets 1,070, Raptors 1,070.
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 4, 2014
Joe Johnson did the heavy lifting for the Nets offensively, scoring 11 straight for his team at one point in the fourth quarter, and finishing with 26 points. But he was even more important than that, because the attention he got from the Raptors defense in the first half with constant double teams allowed Brooklyn to swing the ball until it landed in the hands of someone who had a wide-open shot.
Marcus Thornton was the beneficiary of plenty of those possessions, knocking down four of his six looks from three-point distance while finishing with an important 17 points in just over 20 minutes off the bench.
On the Raptors’ side, they got an incredible performance from Amir Johnson, especially in the first quarter. He scored 12 of his 20 points in the first nine minutes on 6-of-7 shooting, to go along with four early rebounds. Foul trouble limited him the rest of the way, however, and he managed to play just 5:28 of the second half before picking up his sixth foul on a tough call he received for essentially falling on the leg of Joe Johnson.
Lowry finished with 28 points, seven rebounds and three assists, and carried his team at times on a day where DeMar DeRozan was just 5-of-12 from the field in over 45 minutes of action.
Simply put, it was an incredible finish to a highly competitive series.
The Nets will face the Heat in Miami on Tuesday to open the second round, while the Raptors have some tough decisions to make in retooling the roster for what hopefully will be a deeper playoff run next season.