TORONTO -- The suddenly intense disdain for the visitors from Brooklyn was apparent from the moment the Nets' bus slid through a thicket of eager 20- and 30-somethings waiting to enter Maple Leaf Square for a festive time leading up to tip-off.
It was a scene straight out of Kevin Garnett's "Beats by Dre" commercial, with the home fans hurling boos at Brooklyn's bus just as it crept down into the tunnel and into the underbelly of Air Canada Centre.
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As if Raptors fans already weren't frothing at the mouth at the thought of this city's first playoff game since 2007 against a team depicted as "dinosaurs" on a local newspaper back page, Raptors general manager Masai Ujiri stoked their emotions even more. He grabbed the microphone and blurted an expletive during the pep rally to make his feelings about Brooklyn known to the masses, then dropped it to the stage as if he were a hip-hop artist.
Even with all that hysteria, the Nets never lost their composure in a hostile environment. That's because they have Paul Pierce and he played as if possessed in the fourth quarter.
Pierce was in vintage postseason form, dropping in nine of his 15 points in the final 2:58 to help the sixth-seeded Nets earn a 94-87 win over the third-seeded Raptors in Game 1 of their best-of-seven Eastern Conference first-round series.
Game 2 is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Tuesday here. The Nets flew back home after the game, and will return to Toronto tomorrow.
With the Nets clinging to a three-point lead, Pierce scored his team's next nine points for an 88-81 lead with 51.9 seconds remaining. After his tough 20-foot turnaround fadeaway over Patrick Patterson at the top of the key, Pierce sprinted downcourt, looked into the stands behind the basket and twice yelled, "That's why they brought me here!" -- pointing his right index finger as if to tell the sellout crowd of 19,800 that this was his house.
"It was just emotions flying high," said Pierce, who was 2-for-8 from the field through the first three quarters. "Playoffs, close game, taking some shots, making some shots. I really feed off the emotions of the crowd, especially on the road. It's fun when you get to go on the road and beat a team . . . I think it's more gratifying than winning at home. I love those moments."
Pierce's clutch fourth quarter capped a wild game that had nearly everything.
The shot clocks malfunctioned for the better part of the second half, forcing the public address announcer to call out the time that was being kept on a stopwatch at courtside.
Toronto hip-hop artist Drake, the Raptors' Global Ambassador, poked fun at former Nets minority owner Jay Z on the Raptors' television broadcast.
And there was a bevy of foul calls that bogged down the action.
The Nets, who got 24 points each from Joe Johnson and Deron Williams, were 4-for-24 from three-point range and misfired on 19 consecutive attempts from behind the arc before Pierce hit one with 2:58 left for an 82-76 lead.
Kyle Lowry had 22 points, seven rebounds and eight assists, Greivis Vasquez added 18 points and eight assists, and Jonas Valanciunas had 17 points and 18 rebounds for the Raptors, who shot 39.4 percent from the field to the Nets' 42.5 percent.
"We're 14-0 when we hold teams under 40 percent," Williams said. "So any time you do that, you're giving yourself a chance to win. We didn't shoot the ball well from three tonight, but we made up for that with taking care of the ball, good defense down the stretch and making plays offensively."
No one made more clutch plays in the waning moments than Pierce. As Kevin Garnett said: "He was classic Truth."
Or Jurassic Truth, if you believe the local tabloid.
Thanks to Pierce, the Nets held on in a supercharged atmosphere that rivaled a college crowd, stealing home-court advantage from the Atlantic Division champion.
"Obviously, it gives us confidence and momentum coming back for Game 2," Shaun Livingston said. "It's something we can lean on. We understand it's going to be a dogfight, but to come out with the first one is big for us. You see they are trying, as a home-court team should do, to rely on their crowd, rely on their home-court advantage. So to come in and kind of take that in Game 1 was big for us."