Paul Pierce blocks Kyle Lowry’s shot at the buzzer, Nets hold on for Game 7 win over Raptors

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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.

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.

Watch Giannis Antetokounmpo go off for 32 points, 13 boards, lead Bucks rout of Thunder

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MILWAUKEE — Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points and 13 rebounds and the Milwaukee Bucks surged to a 24-point lead in the second quarter in a 133-86 victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder on Friday night.

The 47-point loss was the Thunder’s worst of the season.

Chris Paul scored 18 points for Oklahoma City.

Both teams were without their second-leading scorers. Bucks All-Star Khris Middleton was a late scratch with a sore neck. An ankle injury kept Thunder forward Danilo Gallinari out.

The Bucks had won four in a row and the Thunder had won five straight.

The Bucks built their second-quarter lead behind 14 second-quarter points from Antetokounmpo, seven from Donte DiVincenzo, who started in place of Middleton, and back-to-back 3-pointers from Wesley Matthews.

A key moment occurred late in the second period.

With Milwaukee leading, 54-43, Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer got a technical foul after approaching a referee during a timeout with 3:43 left in the quarter. That was moments after Eric Bledsoe was called for a charging foul that irked Budenholzer. After that, the Bucks went on a 17-4 run and led 71-47 at halftime.

Milwaukee outrebounded Oklahoma City, 67-36.

The Bucks made a season-high 21 3-pointers. The Thunder were 6 for 35 on 3-pointers.

Giannis Antetokounmpo shrugs off James Harden dig: ‘I’m just trying to do my job’

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There is some meat to the James Harden/Giannis Antetokounmpo beef.

Harden was pissed Antetokounmpo won Most Valuable Player over him last year and vented about it. When it came to this year’s All-Star Game, captian Antetokounmpo drafted Kemba Walker over Harden while joking he wanted someone who’d pass. After his team lost the All-Star Game, Antetokounmpo said his team’s strategy was to get the ball to whomever Harden was guarding and attack.

Harden ramped up the skirmish of words Friday when speaking to Rachel Nichols of ESPN, saying:

“I wish I could just run, run and was 7-feet and run and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I’ve got to actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill.”

Antetokounmpo decided to let it die when ESPN asked pregame about what Harden said.

“I’m not the type of guy to take stabs at somebody. … I’m just trying to do my job which is win games and go back home to my family. At the end of the day, if that’s what he believes that’s what he believes. I can’t say anything about it. I’ve just got to keep being focused.”

If you’re circling dates on your calendar, March 25 is what you’re looking for, the day the Bucks host the Rockets.

Harden should believe he is the best player in the game — you don’t get to be where he is without that level of confidence. Antetokounmpo should believe the same thing about himself. We could say the same things about LeBron James, Luka Doncic, and a host of others. It’s part of what makes them great, and not a surprise.

If the MVP thing is eating at Harden he might not like this season’s outcome any better. While I haven’t done a poll, most voters I’ve spoken to have The Beard third behind Antetokounmpo and LeBron James. There’s still more than six weeks of basketball before votes are cast — and the Rockets as a team are surging — but right now, the Greek Freak looks like a repeat winner from what I am hearing.

Rockets protested game despite Tilman Fertitta’s dissent

Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta
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Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta talks big about his devotion to winning.

But when Houston had a chance to turn a loss into a victory by protesting due to an uncounted James Harden dunk, Fertitta balked.

Fertitta, via Kirk Bohls of Statesman:

“That’s my basketball people who got mad at ’em. Honestly, I don’t think we should have filed the protest because honestly we blew the 22-point lead. But if something is important to my players and basketball ops people, I give them a lot of leeway.”

I wonder whether Fertitta would have publicly shared his stance if the protest succeeded. I also wonder whether how supported Fertitta’s basketball employees feel considering he’s publicly revealing that he wasn’t on their side.

But this is actually one of the more encouraging stories of Fertitta’s ownership. He allowed room for debate. He listened to the other side. He posted the $10,000 protest fee.

It didn’t pay off this time, but that’s how good owners operate.

As expected, Rockets sign veteran Jeff Green for remainder of season

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Before they committed fully, Houston signed free agent Jeff Green to a 10-day contract. They just wanted to make sure the veteran forward was a fit in their small-ball system.

It turns out, he was a perfect fit.

Through four games, playing a little more than 19 minutes a game, Green averaged 9.8 points a game on a ridiculous 89.6 true shooting percentage. That’s not sustainable (he’s shooting 61.5 percent from three), but it was enough for the Rockets to sign Green for the remainder of the season, something the team announced Friday.

Green, at 6’8″, played on the wing most of his career. However, with the Rockets he backs up P.J. Tucker at center.

Green started the season a member of the Utah Jazz, but the fit there was not as clean. While he averaged 7.7 points per game in 30 appearances, the Jazz ultimately waived him to create a roster spot for Rayjon Tucker.

This contract only runs through the end of this season, but the Rockets could re-sign Green for next season, if the sides agree this summer. For now, the focus is on the Rockets’ hot streak and building on that as the league moves toward the postseason.