BROOKLYN - The night could not have started worse for the Brooklyn Nets. Or ended better.
Kevin Garnett was scratched just minutes before Monday night’s tipoff against the Toronto Raptors with back spasm.
KG had missed the previous five games but was in the starting lineup until the last minute. The Nets were stunned.
They fell behind the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors by 12 points. If the Nets want to win the division, they couldn’t fall behind by five games with 20 games left in the season.
The savvy, screaming, sellout crowd in Barclays Center knew this. They knew the Nets didn’t have KG and they didn’t have Andrei Kirilenko, who was out with a sprained ankle.
They knew that the NBA Playoffs had arrived early. So the 6th Man stood tall.
Fueled by their raucous home fans, the Nets wiped out most of that 12-point deficit by halftime and blitzed the Raptors in the third quarter to claim a 101-97 win, their 8th straight home win.
When Paul Pierce knocked a free throw with 4.7 seconds left to seal the deal, no one was sitting in this basketball cathedral on the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues.
“I thought the crowd was great tonight,’’ said Deron Williams, who scored 18 points. “It felt like a playoff game.’’
The Nets did it with the 3-ball. During a 14-0 run that turned a 60-59 deficit into a 73-60 lead, the Nets drained four 3’s.
Joe Johnson started it. Williams hit back-to-back 3’s. And Johnson stuck another 3 that forced the Raptors to call a timeout.
The win lifts the Nets to 32-30 and slices their deficit in the Atlantic Division to three games. The Raptors (35-27) and Nets have split the season series 2-2.