Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
TORONTO - After countless words spoken and written about Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett since last July, at the moment of Truth, they justified them by creating only silence.
In a season-defining moment Sunday, the two future Hall of Famers made the biggest contributions on a play that muted a deafening pro-Raptors crowd at Air Canada Centre.
It was almost too corny to be true, but there it was: Garnett's strip and Pierce's block of a shot by driving Kyle Lowry in the final seconds allowed the Nets to win Game 7 of their first-round series, 104-103, and survive to meet the Heat.
As Pierce, whose nickname is "The Truth,'' famously yelled during his late barrage of baskets in a Game 1 victory: "That's why they got me here!"
Well, yes, now that you mention it.
As is often the case, the Nets' best player Sunday was Joe Johnson, who scored 26 points and played 45 minutes -- 13 more than anyone else on the team.
But Johnson is a holdover from the squad that famously lost Game 7 of last year's first round -- at home! -- to the limping Bulls, an embarrassment that helped inspire the arrivals of Pierce and Garnett.
They were supposed to prevent another such flop and so they did -- barely -- in a game the Nets led by as many as 11 points in the fourth quarter.
Garnett had his second strong game in a row, contributing 12 points and 11 rebounds, but Pierce had only 10 points in 25 foul-plagued minutes before his big stop. That was the one part of the script that seemed a bit off. A screenwriter likely would have gone with Pierce sinking a three-point shot at the buzzer.
"I just happened to be at the right place at the right time," he said. "I saw him split the defenders, I saw him go up, I went up with him, got my hand on the ball. Game over."
Said Garnett: "I just ripped him a little bit, cut the ball out of his hands, and then I see Paul go over the top for the block."
Afterward Pierce and Garnett thoroughly enjoyed themselves, with Pierce gesturing to the crowd as he departed.
When someone asked Garnett about the vulgar chant directed at him at all four road games, he said: "Oh, that's all good. That's all good. If they don't boo you, they don't know you. It's a compliment, so it's all good, I love it."
There is no chance the crowd in Miami will generate the kind of heat Toronto fans did. To a man, the Nets called it one of the loudest, most passionate crowds they ever have played before.
But the Heat does present a familiar challenge on the court for Pierce and Garnett -- a guy named LeBron James. "Right now, he's the best player in the league,'' Pierce said, "and I think as a competitor, you are always looking for that challenge, and he's the ultimate challenge."
The Nets were 4-0 against Miami in the regular season, but they know that won't help Tuesday night. Whether two aging stars will be enough to help against the Heat remains to be seen. But in the frantic final seconds Sunday, they made all the difference compared to last season.
"To come in here in this type of building, the way they play, the way the crowd is . . . ," Pierce said. "It's so gratifying to get the Game 7 that [the Nets] didn't get last year, to bring in the veterans to help them control that attitude, control the locker room, ease everybody's tension and not be nervous."
Every Nets fan surely was nervous as Lowry drove toward the basket. Then Pierce responded without saying a word.