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Credit Tom Szczerbowski/USA Today Sports, via Reuters
TORONTO â Bounced from the first round a year ago, the Nets earned a measure of redemption in Game 7 against the Toronto Raptors, pulling out a 104-103 victory Sunday afternoon at Air Canada Centre as Joe Johnson capped a fine series with a 26-point performance.
The Nets will head south to meet the Miami Heat, the two-time defending N.B.A. champions, in the Eastern Conference semifinals. Game 1 of that best-of-seven series is Tuesday night at Miamiâs American Airlines Arena.
Fans stood, tense, as the final seconds of Sundayâs game slowly ticked away in a succession of timeouts, brisk inbounds plays and free throws.
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Raptors point guard Kyle Lowry, fouled with 25 seconds remaining, hit both his free-throw attempts to cut the Netsâ lead to 101-99. The Nets inbounded the ball to Deron Williams, who was fouled upon taking his first steps. He went to the line with 22.5 seconds left, and the roaring crowd grew louder as he missed his first attempt. He sank the second, nudging the lead back to 3.
Lowry wasted no time on the next play, spinning and fighting his way inside and flipping in a layup through traffic, stopping the clock at 16.7 seconds. Three seconds ticked off before Shaun Livingston was fouled and went to the line, where he made two free throws.
Terrance Ross made a driving layup on the baseline for Toronto and then made an athletic defensive play, getting a hand on the ball on the inbounds play, gaining control of it and then throwing it off Paul Pierce to grant the Raptors possession.
On the gameâs final play, Lowry got the ball near midcourt, drove into traffic and threw up a tough shot at the buzzer, which Pierce swatted away.
It was a dramatic end to an entertaining series.
Hours before the game, Toronto fans, donning red and white, bouncing on their toes and chanting beneath the emerging sun, were already packed into Maple Leaf Square, an outdoor plaza adjacent to the arena. Several thousand people would eventually watch the game on a giant screen there.
It was a busy Sunday downtown. Not far away, scores of runners were weaving their way along the Toronto Marathon route, which forced road closures throughout the city.
The resulting traffic jams handed Raptors Coach Dwane Casey his first challenge of Game 7. After sitting almost static in his car for more than half an hour, Casey pulled a U-turn in the middle of the street, dropped his car off at home and hopped onto the subway. Fans snapped pictures of him in his team-issued gear studying something on his cellphone. Some offered him words of encouragement.
âI donât think anybody expected us to be here today,â Casey said, smiling. âThey had a marathon and a Game 7 on the same day.â
More seriously, Casey said the Nets had embarrassed the Raptors on Friday in Brooklyn. The Nets came out and âthrew haymakers,â Casey said, and his players were caught off guard. The Raptors did a better job absorbing the blows Sunday â at least early on.
Pierce drained a 3-pointer on the first shot of the game and glared into the crowd as he jogged down the sideline. Alan Anderson, who was a surprise Nets starter in Game 6, then made his own 3-pointer from the corner. Williams, who played the entire second half of Game 6 with a limp after turning awkwardly on his left ankle, showed no ill effects of the injury, driving and dishing out passes smoothly from the get-go. Still, after a flowing first quarter, the Raptors were ahead, 28-26.
The Nets, with strong play from their second unit, began to establish some superiority during the second quarter while the Raptors looked hesitant. Marcus Thornton, who had seemed out of his depth in this series, carried the Nets through the period.
Thornton, who shot 6 for 21 from the field through the first six games while missing all eight of his 3-point attempts, had 14 points at halftime.
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