MIAMI -- When describing his last two playoff experiences, Joe Johnson merely shook his head.
A year ago at this time, Johnson and his Brooklyn Nets teammates were reeling after coming up short in a 99-93 Game 7 loss to the Chicago Bulls in the opening round of the playoffs.
Now, the Nets are the ones left standing after a grueling seven-game series.
Brooklyn escaped with a 104-103 win over Toronto on Sunday, giving the Nets their first Game 7 win in franchise history and sending Brooklyn to an Eastern Conference semifinals showdown with the two-time defending champion Miami Heat. Johnson says Brooklyn's performance in the final three games of the series has given the Nets a boost.
"It's night and day," said Johnson, who had 26 points in Game 7 against Toronto. "Coming into the (Toronto) series, we felt we were the better team. We just had to go out and prove it. Obviously, they had us on our heels being up 3-2, but we were able to muster up two good games to pull that series out. It's a great feeling. Last year, we were on the other end. We were having exit meetings. Now we're preparing for the second round."
Paul Pierce wasn't on that Nets team a season ago that fell to Chicago, but the 16-year veteran, a former Boston Celtic, has plenty of playoff experience and has had his share of playoff matchups with the Heat. He too, echoed Johnson's thoughts. The Nets, who won all four regular-season games against Miami, aren't intimidated, especially coming off their confidence-building performance against Toronto.
"It builds confidence in your ball club knowing you can take on anything that's thrown at you, and we feel that way," Pierce said. "Toronto was no slouch. Obviously, they earned a No. 3 seed and they had a great year and they're an up-and-coming team with two all-stars. They're not the Heat, obviously we know that. The Heat are on another level, but it was something that helps you prepare. You know you have to have a certain mentality. When you get to the next round, it has to go up another notch."
One advantage Brooklyn feels it has heading into its matchup with the Heat is depth.
Marcus Thornton had 17 points off the bench Sunday, while Shaun Livingston had 10. Andray Blatche, Mirza Teletovic, and Andrei Kirilenko have also been productive off the bench this season with Teletovic playing especially well against the Heat and averaging 10.3 points against Miami.
"We're going to need everybody on board, just like this last series," Nets coach Jason Kidd said. "Everybody was contributing. We're going to need to throw different people at different guys, keep rotating and hopefully we can wear them down somehow. I think they know what's coming. We've seen them four times. I think we have the utmost respect for them and they have the utmost respect for us."
Nets guard Deron Williams was hobbled by a left ankle injury late during Brooklyn's Game 6 win against Toronto. But Williams said Monday he was feeling better and doesn't expect the injury to be a factor against the Heat. He had 13 points in 32 minutes of action on Sunday.
"We've got good doctors," Williams said. "I got an injection right after the game, knocked the swelling out. I'm ready to go."
REST VS. RUST?
While Johnson joked he got a good night's rest after Sunday's win, few of the Nets players put much stock into the whole rust vs. rest debate that's raged since the Heat locked up their opening-round playoff win with a four-game sweep of Charlotte last week.
"I guess we'll see (Tuesday)," Williams said. "We can't really think about that. We went seven games, they went four. ... We have to be ready to go. We know they're going to be ready to go. That's what the playoffs are about."
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