NEW YORK — Plagued by foul trouble in the first three quarters, Paul Pierce came up big down the stretch for the Brooklyn Nets.
Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston each scored 18 points and an ailing Pierce hit a key late 3-pointer to lead the Brooklyn Nets to a 101-97 victory over the Atlantic Division-leading Toronto Raptors on Monday night.
Pierce scored 10 of his 15 points in the fourth quarter and Joe Johnson added 14 for the Nets, who won their season-high eighth straight at home. Brooklyn moved three games behind Toronto in the Atlantic.
The 35-year-old, who had been battling through a "stinger" in his right shoulder felt fine during the morning after receiving treatment and admitted that he wasn't expecting to play but he couldn't pass up on the opportunity Brooklyn had to close the gap in the division standings.
"I knew the implications of this game. Maybe if it was a different type of game, (I sit out)," Pierce said. "But this was one of our biggest games of the year. Division rival, a lot on the line tonight, so you can always pen me in with those type of games."
Pierce was all over the floor in the final 12 minutes of the game, hitting a pair of shots beyond the arc, making four free throws and stealing the ball twice.
The victory was critical for the Nets, who lost to Toronto last time they played, on Jan. 27, after Williams turned the ball over on an inbounds play with 12 seconds left and Patrick Patterson hit the eventual game-winner with 6 seconds left on the clock.
"This was a big game. It give us the split," Williams said. "We didn't want them to get three up on us in case of tiebreakers. We gained a full game on them. That much closer to catching them."
The Nets next big test comes on the road as they go for a season-series sweep over the two-time defending world champion Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
Kyle Lowry scored 21 points to lead Toronto, which had won three straight and nine of its previous 11. Tyler Hansbrough and Amir Johnson added 16 points each.
The Nets played their sixth straight game without Kevin Garnett, who was in the starting lineup but was scratched minutes before tip-off. Nets coach Jason Kidd said the 38-year-old veteran, who has been bother by back spasms, "tightened up, so we pulled the plug on him". Brooklyn also missed Andrei Kirilenko, who was out because of a sprained right ankle.
The Nets trailed 94-92 after Lowry split the defense in the lane for a lay-up with 2:15 left.
Brooklyn then answered with five straight points as Andray Blatche's reverse lay-up tied the score at 94 and Pierce followed with his 3 with 1:14 left despite Lowry's attempt to block the shot.
Brooklyn's small lineup gave the Raptors trouble.
"Their lineup is funky, man. When you have Paul Pierce at the 4, it is tough to guard," Lowry said. "Amir is an unbelievable defender but he is also our help guy and sometimes it is tough for him to get back out. I mean, Paul made a 3 over me and I was literally on him, in which I could smack him in the face."
DeMar DeRozan then beat Livingston to the basket but was fouled and made two free throws to pull to 97-96 with 1:03 to go. On Brooklyn's next possession, Williams drove to the lane but his shot was blocked by Johnson, setting the stage for a go-ahead or game-tying shot.
However, Terrence Ross lost control of the ball and Pierce came up with the steal.
Livingston hit two free throws to extend the Nets' lead to 99-96 with 22.8 seconds left. Lowry had a chance to tie with a 3 but missed. Blatche was then fouled with 6.5 seconds left and was only able to hit the second free throws to push the lead to four points.
As the Raptors proceeded to move the ball up the court, Lowry was fouled. He hit the first shot to make it 100-97 with 5.2 left. He purposely missed the second one but was called for a lane violation.
Pierce, who exited Sunday night's game in the first quarter with 10:45 left due to a sore right shoulder, then hit two free throws to seal the win and even the season series between both teams at two games apiece.
The matchup between Toronto and Brooklyn, who are in third and sixth place, respectively, in the Eastern Conference, had a playoff atmosphere to it with the home crowd at the Barclays Center on its feet once Pierce hit that 3-pointer.
In the long run, it would definitely help Raptors coach Dwane Casey's inexperienced postseason squad.
"Again, it was playoff type of basketball with physicality. I've said it forever that we have to get ready to play that style of basketball", he said. "We had three big time turnovers because they got into us at the end of the game."
Brooklyn trailed 30-19 at the end of the opening period but had a strong second quarter, pulling to 51-50 at the half.
Down 60-59 after a tip-in shot by Jonas Valaciunas in the third quarter, Johnson and Williams each hit two 3-pointers to spark Brooklyn on a 14-0 run, leading 73-60 with 4:28 left.
But the Raptors answered with an 11-0 run over the next 3 minutes, capped by two free throws from Hansbrough.
NOTES: Kidd said the Nets will re-evaluate Garnett on Tuesday. Rookie Mason Plumlee started in Garnett's place and had six points and eight rebounds in 26 minutes. They're 5-1 in Garnett's absence. . Brooklyn last won eight straight at Barclays Center back on Dec. 28, 2013 to Jan. 28, 2013. . The Nets' 22-9 record since Jan. 1 is tops in the East.