NETS ESCAPE TO SECOND ROUND: Nets 104, Raptors 103 (GAME GRADES)


The Brooklyn Nets CENTER

See you in Miami.

Deron Williams POINT GUARD

Didn’t have his best game, wasn’t silent for four quarters, but led the Nets offense and played some really solid defense. I thought today was a referendum on Williams as a player, but as it turns out, he still is who we thought he was: a solid point guard with a spectacular crossover and bad ankles.

You can point to his missed free throw in crunch time as a testament to shaky confidence, or maybe it’s just because the Air Canada Centre is the loudest place I’ve ever heard outside of Boston when Paul Pierce returned, or maybe it’s just because people miss free throws. I don’t know. But Deron Williams seems to have accepted the fact that he’s not a superstar anymore. Maybe that’s all they needed.

Shaun Livingston POINT GUARD

After starting in 50 consecutive appearances, Livingston moved to the bench without complaint or strain, returning to his original role as backup point guard while maintaining his skill as an elite post-up guard. With the game hanging in the balance, Livingston buried two free throws to put the Nets up 104-101 with 13 seconds left, then threw away a pass that could have decided the game.

Joe Johnson SHOOTING GUARD

In Game 7 of the 2013 Nets-Bulls series, a plantar fasciitis-afflicated Joe Johnson shot just 2-14 in a six-point loss. In Game 7 of a 2014 Nets-Raptors series, Joe Jesus rose on Sunday to lead the Nets into the second round.

Johnson got a fair amount of early looks at “the nail,” getting good clean looks in the paint early, though the Raptors defense hampered him on a few occasions. Then, with Patrick Patterson switched on him, Johnson poured in fourth-quarter points, because of course he did, because he’s Joe Johnson.

Talk about his contract all you want. The Nets don’t win this series without him. They may not have won a game.

Paul Pierce POWER FORWARD

This is why they brought him here, maybe not for the blocked shots, but holy crap, for the series-deciding defensive play.

The stylistic difference between the crafty, spacing Pierce and the broad-bodied Johnson typified how these two teams play: the Nets look to bury you from outside and post up their guards, while the Raptors look to control the glass and the paint with their bigs.

Like in each game before, that difference was on full display. Pierce kicked off the game by burying a three-pointer, and Johnson fired back with a game-high 12 points in the first quarter, all in the paint and most over Pierce’s outstretched arms.

That’s why he’s here.

Kevin Garnett CENTER

Raptors fans hate him. They really do. Sometimes, he gives them a reason to, whether it’s goading the opponents or putting his hand in players’ faces after the play, or putting his hands up while running into opponents, or just saying things that I can’t repeat on this here website. But a double-double in this game is nothing to sneeze at.

Andray Blatche POWER FORWARD

Andray “Guarantee” Blatche entered the game to a chorus of boos, and though he immediately tipped in an putback on his first offensive possession, looked a little rattled. When he went up with shots, he faded away from the basket, rather than drawing contact. Drew a huge charge in the fourth.

Alan Anderson SHOOTING GUARD

Hit his first three-point attempt, legitimizing his insertion into the starting lineup, but then looked oddly tentative, at times refusing to take open three-point attempts.

Mirza Teletovic POWER FORWARD

Didn’t hit a shot but thought his defense was a bit better than usual.

Marcus Thornton SHOOTING GUARD

Oddly huge game. It was a semi-rare first quarter appearance for Thornton, but with Kyle Lowry playing in foul trouble, he delivered 14 first-half points with a quick trigger on his three-pointer and a few big shooting fouls. Came back in the fourth quarter with another three.