TORONTO — Paul Pierce is old enough to be vintage, and vintage Paul Pierce could be the difference in the series between his Brooklyn Nets and the Toronto Raptors.
Want proof? It showed up in the final minutes of Game 1.
With Toronto trailing by three late in the fourth quarter, Nets center Kevin Garnett set a pick for Pierce who had just enough time to shoot a three-pointer before late-closing Patrick Patterson got there to defend.
The ball went in, and then Pierce scored the Nets’ next six points, giving Brooklyn a seven-point lead with 51.9 seconds left.
The Nets stopped the Raptors 94-87 Saturday, taking a 1-0 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 2 is Tuesday in Toronto. Pierce finished with 15 points, but more than the total, it was the when and how — when the Nets needed points and ran plays that got him the ball.
“The ball just found him, and he was constant ‘Truth,’ ” Garnett said, referring to Pierce’s nickname.
How many times have we watched Pierce do that before? “Countless,” Garnett said.
That is what playoff experience looks like. That is what Brooklyn has and what Toronto wants.
Much has been made of playoff experience in this series with the upstart Raptors whose starting lineup had played in a combined 22 playoff games before Saturday. Pierce and Garnett have played in 22 playoff games in a season before, and this was Pierce’s 137th career playoff game.
“I’ve been in those situations a number, number of times,” Pierce, 36, said. “I don’t get rattled in the fourth quarter down the stretch of playoff settings. I’ve been in pretty much every playoff situation that you can imagine. I just try to stay calm and bring my calmness to the game.
“I think it’s more gratifying than at home. I love those moments.”
Playing on the road in a playoff opener didn’t matter one bit to Brooklyn. They handled the enthusiastic crowd and Toronto’s fourth-quarter push in which they took a 76-75 lead with 5:13 left. And they left with best-case scenario awaiting: a chance to head back to Brooklyn for Games 3 and 4 with a 2-0 lead.
Maybe because of nerves or the magnitude of Toronto’s first playoff game since 2008 or both, the Raptors didn’t execute well offensively in the final five minutes, going 5-for-12 from the field, including 1-for-5 on three-pointers, and turning the ball over — one of 17 turnovers — on a shot clock violation.
The Nets have made clear their strategy — stop Toronto’s perimeter players.
“We wanted to take away their guard play,” Garnett said, acknowledging they are willing to give something up and possibly explaining why center Jonas Valanciunas tallied 17 points and 18 rebounds.
Point guard Kyle Lowry had 22 points, but Raptors guard DeMar DeRozan struggled in his first playoff game, missing his first eight shots before making one with 2:34 left in the third quarter, and small forward Terrence Ross took just four three-point shots and scored three points.
DeRozan, who finished with 14 points on 3-for-13 shooting, averaged a career-high 22.7 points this season, will be a factor — one way or the other — moving forward. So will Ross, an emerging second-year talent who shot 39.5% on three-pointers this season.
Casey knows he needs to not only find shots for those two, he needs to find better shots. That’s all part of playoff basketball, and it’s also on DeRozan and Ross to work hard and find their spots on the floor.
“You will see adjustments on Tuesday,” he said.
In Game 1, experience won. It doesn’t mean it will Game 2 or even the series. But for a game, vintage beat fresh.