TORONTO – Slowed by foul trouble and struggling with his shot, Paul Pierce still found a way to come up big for the Brooklyn Nets.
And, right when they needed him most.
Pierce blocked Kyle Lowry’s shot from the lane on the final play of the game, and the Nets held off the Toronto Raptors 104-103 in Game 7 on Sunday to advance to the second round of the playoffs.
“I just happened to be in the right place at the right time,” Pierce said. “I saw him split the defenders, I saw him go up, I went up with him.
“I got my hand on the ball — game over.”
The Nets will begin the conference semifinals against the two-time defending NBA champion Heat on Tuesday night in Miami.
Pierce had more fouls (three) than points (none) in the second half, but his only block of the game punctuated a hard-fought series win for the Nets.
Leading by one, Brooklyn used its final timeout after failing to inbound the ball. On the second opportunity, Shaun Livingston tried a lob pass to Pierce, but Terrence Ross got a hand on the ball and then knocked it off Pierce and out of bounds for a turnover.
“I rushed it a little bit,” Livingston said. “I’m thinking Paul is going to hold him off. He kind of slipped there. Once he slipped, it was a jump ball and Terrence Ross is probably the last guy you want to throw a jump ball to.”
Toronto used a timeout and gave the ball to Lowry, whose driving shot was blocked by Pierce as time expired. Lowry lay prone in the key as the Nets surged onto the court in celebration.
“I really didn’t have a great offensive game,” Pierce said. “I was in foul trouble for most of the night. Sometimes you’ve got to find ways to help your ballclub win.”
Nets coach Jason Kidd said Brooklyn’s defense “bent a little” but didn’t break, thanks mostly to Pierce’s clutch play.
“Paul said it best, that’s why he’s here, to make plays,” Kidd said. “He didn’t have a great game, but it only takes one play to help a team win and that’s what he did tonight.”
Brooklyn went 4-0 against Miami in the regular season, but that didn’t mean much to Brooklyn’s Kevin Garnett.
“That goes out the window,” he said. “This is the postseason. They’re playing very well. They went right through Charlotte without a beat and they have a lot of confidence.”
Joe Johnson scored 13 of his 26 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Nets. Marcus Thornton scored 17, Garnett had 12 points and 11 rebounds for his first double-double of the series, and Deron Williams added 13 points.
“Joe has kept us alive this whole series,” Garnett said.
Spurs 119, Mavericks 96
In San Antonio, Tony Parker scored 32 points and the Spurs led by as many as 31 on their way to a victory that closed out a stressful first-round series in seven games.
The finale featured Tim Duncan diving into Dallas’ bench to save a ball and the San Antonio reserves continually on their feet to celebrate baskets. But no one had as much fun or hit the floor more than Parker.
The All-Star point guard was 11-for-19 from the field and 10-for-13 on free throws as Dallas was unable to keep him from attacking the lane, despite a series of hard fouls.
“I just knew that I had to be aggressive if we wanted to have a chance to win the game because of the strategy that the Mavericks chose,” Parker said. “They just dared me to score.”
Manu Ginobili scored 20 points and six steals, Danny Green added 16 points and Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard had 15 points apiece for San Antonio.
Dirk Nowitzki had 22 points and nine rebounds to lead Dallas.
Last season ended for the Spurs with a Game 7 loss in the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat. Facing a much earlier end, San Antonio rode a raucous home crowd and overwhelmed Dallas.
“We gave ourselves a chance but today we got hit by a tidal wave early,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “They had their best game today and we just weren’t able to do quite enough to stay in it early.
“It’s hard when you get hit with an onslaught early the way the guys did.”
San Antonio advances to face the fifth-seeded Portland Trail Blazers, who upset the Houston Rockets in a six-game series. The series opens Tuesday in San Antonio.