In regulation, the Nets isolated Joe Johnson at the top of the key, asking him to work his clutch magic without the help of his teammates. It worked, not because it’s the proper basketball play, but because Johnson is a radioactive machine made of clutches, tying the game at 92 and eventually sending it to overtime.
In overtime, Kevin Garnett tapped a loose rebound out to Johnson, who drove the length of the court and lofted a floater perfectly through the net as the buzzer sounded, giving the Nets a 100-98 overtime victory, snapping a three-game losing streak, and giving the team its first road win of the season. Johnson played the last 4.2 seconds of overtime about as perfectly as he could’ve, even offering a slight hesitation as he drove to the rim, keeping Phoenix off balance and taking just enough time off the clock to ensure the ball would drop through as the scoreboard flashed red.
If Johnson acted as the team’s closer, call Shaun Livingston the long reliever and Brook Lopez the setup man. With Deron Williams sidelined early with an ankle sprain and the Nets down early, Livingston played admirably as the team’s point guard, whizzing around defenders and into the paint with ease, finding teammates through an offensive explosion between the second and third quarters. Down 50-42 late in the second quarter, the Nets tore off on a 20-0 run to take control of the game. After the Suns fought back with a barrage of three-pointers, the Nets went to Lopez time and time again in the fourth quarter, and he laughably dominated the likes of Miles Plumlee and Channing Frye. Lopez dropped the ball in the basket with minimal effort, scoring 10 points in the fourth, before Johnson took the reins, leading the team to victory.
“This win right here, it’s big,” Garnett told reporters after the game. “It’s big, period.”
Though the Nets picked up the win, they did suffer one major loss, as Williams left in the first quarter and did not return. But the Nets won’t miss Williams — they already have. Save a few months after last year’s All-Star break, Williams hasn’t been the player the team envisioned as their leader when they inked him to a five-year deal worth over $98 million, the maximum allowable under the NBA’s collective bargaining agreement. Entering the team’s eighth game, Williams was shooting below 42 percent from the field, and recorded double-digit assists in just one game. Conversely, Livingston entered the game shooting over 59 percent from the field, with a player efficiency rating nearly six points higher. Williams reportedly left the locker room without crutches or a walking boot, though his status for tomorrow is still uncertain.
Garnett, who Nets coach Jason Kidd may not want playing in back-to-backs, is also not confirmed to play tomorrow against the Los Angeles Clippers, run by Doc Rivers, his former coach with the Boston Celtics.
But for tonight, the Nets can enjoy at least one win on the road, something they hadn’t picked up all season. They’re 3-5, which looks much better than 2-6. They’ve beaten a young, athletic team on the road. For tonight, no one can take that away.