Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted in 2005.

Nothing fundamental changed for the Nets Friday night. If they lose their first-round playoff series to the Raptors, their season cannot be regarded as anything other than a failure.

Yet this also is true: Their satisfying, at times exhilarating, 97-83 victory in Game 6 was hugely important to the franchise regardless of what happens in Game 7 Sunday in Toronto.

For all of their long history across two states and two leagues, their deep-pocketed ownership and their big-name roster, the reality is this operation still is in the early stages of building credibility and a fan base in Brooklyn.

It would have been a devastating blow to be eliminated at home for the second year in a row, with A-list cool kids Jay Z, Beyoncé, Drake, Fabolous and Adam Silver in the house and with the organization doing all it could to get its sometimes sleepy crowd jazzed up.

That doomsday scenario faded quickly as the Nets showed uncommon pep from the opening tip, playing both ends of the floor and making the Raptors appear overmatched.

What was the key? "The energy," said Kevin Garnett, who showed plenty of it down the stretch after not playing at all in the fourth quarter of Game 5. "We were at home. Brooklyn . . . You can't come in here and get a win, not when it's like this."

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Leading the charge was Deron Williams, who widely was criticized for being outplayed by the Raptors' Kyle Lowry in Game 5, and who was the subject of a mock "MISSING" poster someone put up outside the arena before the game.

The Nets led by 26 points in the third quarter before the Raptors made it interesting by getting within 10 in the middle of the fourth quarter.

But the Nets clung to their lead, and the coup de grace was a three-pointer by Williams with 1:13 remaining that gave the Nets a 13-point lead -- and came as nearly everyone in the arena was standing and cheering.

The basket inspired the loudest cheers of the night, generating exactly the kind of atmosphere Brooklyn's front office, players and fans have craved.

Strangely, the Brooklyn fans faced nearly as much scrutiny before Game 6 as the players in light of the attention the raucous Raptors fans have gotten all series, a point made bluntly during Game 5 on the Nets' own Twitter feed, which urged fans to record the game to learn how playoff fandom is properly done.

Speaking of feeds, the Nets tried to lure fans to the game early by offering 25 percent off food concessions from 5:30-6 p.m. They also draped white Nets T-shirts over every seat in the house.

The shirts only served to highlight the fact that half the seats still were empty at tip-off -- a function of a 7 p.m. start and assorted mass transit and road traffic problems.

But by the time the place filled in, the Nets were rolling and the fans got into the spirit. By the third quarter, the place was rocking with a "Brooook-lyn" chant, and it only got louder in the final minutes.

So all momentarily was well in Kings County. None of it meant the Nets will win Sunday, so there is plenty potential for criticism and disappointment ahead, and plenty of noise to come in support of the other team.

"Obviously, they're going to feed off their crowd," Joe Johnson said. "Their crowd will be very hostile, but this is territory we're all familiar with and we look forward to the challenge."

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That's good, because a loss Sunday will be a huge setback for an evolving franchise. A loss Friday night would have been a far bigger one.