Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce turned the clock back to their collective Boston Celtics heydays. Joe Johnson continued to be the offensive catalyst from the wing by drawing double-teams and scoring at will when isolated. Deron Williams responded to heavy criticism by overcoming an ankle injury and playing like a $100 million franchise player in Game 6. Furthermore, Jason Kidd pushed all the right buttons with his lineup changes.
Ultimately, Brooklyn’s stars rose to the challenge with several legacies on the line.
Nowadays, Garnett is like that old man in the park playing against the youths. He’s not as quick or athletic as he once was, but you can count on him to get the job done when you need it most as he showed down the stretch.
Garnett finished Game 7 with a double-double scoring 12 points and grabbing 11 rebounds, slowing down Jonas Valanciunas, Toronto’s rising star center, in the process.
Garnett was able to get under the skin of the Raptors and rattle the younger players. His trash talking is legendary, just ask Carmelo Anthony.
Kidd limited Garnett to 20 minutes per game throughout the season for moments such as the past two games.
“This is what the NBA is all about,” Pierce said coming into Game 7. “These pressure type moments. These are the type of games that elevate the good players to great players.”
Pierce’s block on Kyle Lowry at the end of regulation saved Brooklyn’s season.
“Paul said it best, that’s why he’s here, to make plays,” Kidd said.
In last year’s Game 7 at home against the Chicago Bulls, Johnson struggled with an injured leg scoring only six points while shooting 2-for-14 from the field.
Johnson carried the Nets, and the Brooklyn Bridge for that matter, on his back all series by averaging 21.6 points on nearly 52 percent shooting from the floor.
When it mattered most, Johnson seemingly had an answer for every Raptors bucket in Game 7 and was Brooklyn’s most consistent go-to player throughout the series.
“Joe Jesus, I told you, cooler than the other side of the pillow,” Garnett said after Game 7.
“One of the best to do it man,” Garnett added. “I don’t think he gets his props, but he goes out and does his job and does it at a high level.”
The pressure was also on Williams, Johnson’s backcourt mate, to atone for last season’s early exit.
Since arriving from Utah, Williams has dealt with a variety of injuries – most notably to his ankles.
Those injuries have stripped him of his consistent explosiveness and taken him out of the conversation for the league’s top point guard, a distinction he once shared with Chris Paul.
After two back-to-back subpar games in which Toronto’s Kyle Lowry thoroughly outplayed him – and a photo surfaced outside of Barclays Center before Game 6 as a missing person advertisement – Williams responded to the criticism loudly according to Kidd.
“It just shows what type of player he is,” Kidd said after Game 6. “He stood up to what everyone said and he responded with one of his best games.”
“I think Deron showed that he’s a warrior,” Kidd added. “He sprains his ankle, comes back, shoots the free throws and doesn’t want to come out of the game. I think that shows leadership and toughness and that’s what he did tonight for us.”
Normally, talking about his ankles is a sore subject – no pun intended – for Williams who has been heavily criticized for his inability to stay fully healthy since signing a maximum contract with the Nets as the team moved to Brooklyn.
That wasn’t the case, however, during Game 6 when he went to the floor in pain clutching his right ankle.
Unlike most familiar scenarios when Williams has gone down with an ankle injury, he walked it off with a noticeable limp as his adrenaline carried him through the remainder of the game – a must-win for Brooklyn to keep its season alive.
“I thought Deron showed a lot of heart, a lot of grit,” Garnett said. “I’d like to use another word, but I can’t. For the most part, I thought he showed great leadership coming out and playing aggressive. He was beat up a little bit, but he sucked it up and got through it. My hat goes off to him.”
Williams averaged 20.5 points and shot nearly 45 percent in Brooklyn’s four wins. Conversely, Williams averaged 12.7 points and shot 37 percent in Brooklyn’s three losses.
Speaking of point guards, another former highly-touted floor general had something to prove – Kidd.
Coming into the season with championship expectations from ownership and the most talented roster on paper since Kidd himself went to the NBA Finals, the pressure was on to advance.
Kidd began the year looking lost thanks to the Lawrence Frank controversy and the $50,000 soda spill. However, Kidd looked like a genius starting Alan Anderson over Shaun Livingston and benching Mason Plumlee in favor of Andray Blatche – after Blatche’s errant pass ended Brooklyn’s comeback bid in Game 5 – with the season on the line.
Kidd has proven he’ll ride the hot hand. Garnett and Pierce spent the majority of the fourth quarter on the bench in Game 5 as Anderson and Blatche sparked a furious comeback that fell short.
Consider this: P.J. Carlesimo was chastised for failing to beat a Chicago Bulls team with Joakim Noah, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich playing through serious injuries and with Derrick Rose in a suit.
Kidd is now spared the same criticism as Carlesimo for leading his team to the next round.
Even Andray Blatche, who guaranteed a series victory, came through in the final two games after making his bold prediction.
“We guarantee it,” Blatche said. “We’re gonna go there, take care of business and go to Miami.”
Blatche averaged 8.5 points and seven rebounds over the final two games of the series.
Brooklyn is now 2-0 when Blatche guarantees a victory as the Nets now head to South Beach to try and dethrone LeBron James.