EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - Richard Jefferson saved the Nets from another trip to Toronto - and sent them instead to the second round.
Jefferson made the go-ahead basket with 8.3 seconds left, stole a pass on the next possession, and New Jersey beat the visiting Raptors, 98-97, last night to win the first-round series, 4-2.
After underachieving for most of the season, the Nets put it together down the stretch and now head to Cleveland for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals tomorrow.
Jason Kidd finished with 18 points, 15 assists and eight rebounds for the Nets, averaging a triple-double for the series. Jefferson scored 24 points and Vince Carter added 21.
Chris Bosh had 23 points, nine assists and seven rebounds for the Atlantic Division champion Raptors. But Jose Calderon's pass to him was intercepted by Jefferson, sending the Raptors to their ninth straight road postseason loss.
After four dismal games in New Jersey this season, Bosh was terrific this time, scoring 13 points in the fourth quarter. He banked in a jumper with 47 seconds left, giving the Raptors a 97-96 lead.
But after a timeout, Jefferson drove into the lane and rose over Bosh for his layup. The Raptors then tried to find Bosh cutting to the basket, but Jefferson came away with Calderon's pass and put the Nets back into the conference semifinals. They lost to Miami in that round last year.
Toronto got inspired efforts from banged-up point guards T.J. Ford and Calderon, who combined for 33 points. But Kidd averaged 14 points, 13.2 assists and 10 rebounds to became the first player to average a triple-double for a series since he did it against Boston in the 2002 Eastern Conference finals. *