Paul Pierce returns to play hero as Nets upend Raptors

Paul Pierce reacts after sinking a three-pointer in Paul Pierce reacts after sinking a three-pointer in the second half of a game against the Toronto Raptors at Barclays Center on Monday, March 10, 2014. Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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The rest of the anemic Atlantic Division may be drawing snickers around the NBA, but its two top teams are playing some serious basketball as the regular season winds down.

The Nets and the Toronto Raptors entered Monday night's division showdown at Barclays Center as two of the hottest teams in basketball, and Monday night, the Nets were just a few degrees hotter. They won what had been billed as a statement game against the division-leading Raptors, 101-97.

Paul Pierce -- who wasn't expected to play because of a sore shoulder -- hit a huge three-pointer with 1:14 left to give the Nets their eighth straight home win.

Pierce scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter, the final point coming in the final second of the game at the free-throw line while fans stood and chanted his name. He also came up with a steal with 25 seconds remaining when Terrence Ross lost the ball.

"He's a competitor," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "No matter what position he plays, no matter what his health is, he's out there trying to help the team win. He was big tonight."

Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston led the Nets with 18 points each. Joe Johnson contributed 14 and Alan Anderson had 11.

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The Raptors (35-27) were led by Kyle Lowry's 21 points. Toronto outrebounded the Nets 37-30.

The Nets (32-30) have won six of their last seven as they head into a stretch of games against some of the better teams in the league. Next up is the Miami Heat, and Kidd has to like the way his team is playing heading into Wednesday night's matchup in Miami.

"The guys are sharing the ball," Kidd said. "It's fun to watch. The guys get all the credit tonight."

The Raptors entered the game with a four-game lead over the Nets, and a victory essentially would have meant that the division race was over.

Even with the win, the Nets are going to have a hard time catching Toronto. Fourteen of the Raptors' 20 remaining games are against sub-.500 teams. They also own both the second and third tiebreakers, which are conference and division record.

Monday night's contest, however, wasn't so much about winning the division title as it was about making a statement.

The Nets came within a whisker of having won their previous game against the Raptors at Barclays Center on Jan. 27. Brooklyn had the ball and the lead with 12 seconds left, but a critical turnover by Williams -- his second miscue in the final minute -- cost them that game.

This time Williams kept his cool at the end and put the Nets in position to win when he hit three big three-pointers on a 14-0 run in the third quarter.

Though Pierce played only 73 seconds in Sunday night's win over Sacramento because of his shoulder problems, he said he never doubted that he was going to be able to face the Raptors.

"Tonight's game was a huge game," Pierce said. "You never know, this could be the team we wind up playing in the first round. This was one of our biggest games of the year, against a division rival. You can always pen me in in that situation."

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