#Nets now 32-0 when outscoring opponent this season
— Nets PR Dept. (@Nets_PR) February 20, 2013
BROOKLYN, N.Y. -- Brooklyn Nets head coach P.J. Carlesimo chose to go with Andray Blatche over Brook Lopez for the fourth quarter, citing Blatche's solid play throughout the final 12 minutes, and with the Nets down three with seconds left, that looked to be the major topic of discussion. Why is your All-Star center on the bench in crunch time?
So much for that.
After the Brooklyn Nets squandered a 10-point halftime lead with a patented third-quarter collapse -- turning the ball over seven times and making just seven field goals in the third -- the Nets turned to guard Joe Johnson at both game-deciding moments, and he delivered: first by twisting around a perfect curl screen from Andray Blatche to get himself open for a game-tying three as regulation closed, then hitting a patented Iso-Joe, one-on-one leaning jumper from fifteen feet as the final buzzer sounded to give the Nets a 113-111 overtime victory.
"It's an unbelievable feeling," Johnson said after the game. "Regardless of the situation, whether it's regular season or the playoffs.. just to see everybody explode with excitement is probably the best feeling."
In a game they nearly gave away with silly and questionable second-half decisions, the Brooklyn Nets once again leaned on shooting guard Johnson to drag them out of the muck, and he did -- and did so ludicrously that nobody could seem to keep a rational head when talking about him.
Gerald Wallace pulled no punches: "Joe's like... I hate to do the comparison to Michael Jordan, but..."
Yes, that Michael Jordan.
After laughter, Wallace continued. "Everybody knew Michael was going to get the ball in Chicago for the last play. Everybody in the arena knew Joe was getting the last shot. We could've put him out there by himself. Well, someone would have to take the ball out for him..."
More laughter. Yes, Gerald Wallace was so wrapped up in witnessing Joe Johnson that he got lost in his own stream of consciousness trying to explain it.
Johnson finished with one of his most complete games of the season, hitting 10 of 18 shots (most from midrange and beyond) for a team-high 24 points, five rebounds, and five assists in 44 minutes.
"Joe's in trouble now," Lopez joked after the game. "Every time he gets it, I think it's going to go in. He's been incredible."He was hardly alone, as this was one of the more complete offensive efforts from Brooklyn's "big three" this season: Deron Williams had a synovitis-less 19 points & 9 assists, and Brook Lopez finished with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and three blocks in 34 minutes. The Nets got additional contributions from their bench: Andray Blatche and C.J. Watson combined for 25 points on 11-17 shooting, and Keith Bogans led the Nets through the first 4:50 in overtime, hitting two threes in the final five minutes to even give Johnson the opportunity to shine.
(When asked about Lopez's benching, Carlesimo cited Blatche's excellent play down the stretch, including two big free throws to put the Nets up 102-101 with under a minute in regulation. "Frankly, Dray just kept making plays," Carlesimo said. Lopez felt no ill will, saying that he has complete trust in Blatche when he's on the floor.)
Whether or not you believe that players can be clutch -- I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that players get better in those moments, though there's undoubtedly a skill in maintaining your highest level of play -- the numbers don't lie: Johnson is now 8-9 this season in the final 30 seconds of games when the margin is three points or less. If you include his twisting fadeaway over the Knicks on January 21st to give them the lead for good, Johnson has four game-winners on the season.
"You can't rattle him," Wallace espoused multiple times. "That's what people don't understand about Joe."