For the second time this season in a Nets-Bucks triple-overtime game, the Bucks knew it was going to him.
“Guys scout,” Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo said, shortly after the Nets defeated the Bucks 129-127 in their highest-scoring game of the season. “In the scouting report, the ball was going to go to Joe Johnson.”
With the Nets needing three points on two occasions in one game, there was no other option.
Down 101-98 with the clock winding down in regulation, Nets coach Lionel Hollins called for a pick-and-roll towards the left side of the floor with Jarrett Jack & Brook Lopez, taking Jack into two of his teammates and overloading one side of the floor.
In doing so, the Nets left Johnson alone on the other side, guarded by Antetokounmpo. Zaza Pachulia, guarding Lopez, strayed to the left side of the floor to try to neutralize Jack’s attack off the screen, meaning that Antetokounmpo had to step up and “touch” Lopez in the paint.
Once that happened, Lopez — not normally a pass-happy center — read the defensive coverage and whipped the ball to the right side, where Johnson stood in wait for the game-tying three-pointer.
Neither team would score again in regulation.
Johnson missed a potential game-winning shot in the first overtime that looked eerily similar to one he’d hit on the Bucks two seasons ago, and left one more point at the free throw line in the second overtime. “I choked,” Johnson said plainly when asked about those shots.
But with time winding down in the second overtime, the Nets drew up another play with Johnson as the focal option, hanging Antetokounmpo on a Lopez screen and giving Johnson a clear look from the left corner.
“I thought if anybody can get a quick shot off, it would be Joe,” Lionel Hollins said. “Sure enough, Giannis (Antetokounmpo) got caught up on the screen, and Joe was able to turn his shoulder and make the shot.”
“The way the play worked out, they took away the top, and left the sideline open, and we were able to get a wide open look on the pass as well.”
Antetokounmpo blamed himself and the coverage for allowing the open shot.
“I think that was a situation when we were supposed to switch, and we didn’t communicate,” Antetokounmpo said. “It was me with Z(aza Pachulia). We didn’t communicate right.”
Pachulia was a bit more curt when asked if the Bucks should have fouled before letting Johnson shoot the three. “At least not give him a wide-open three,” he said.
Ex-Nets coach Jason Kidd — who knew it was going to Johnson — merely gave the Nets credit. “They set a great screen, and Giannis was trailing, and (Johnson) got off a great shot,” Kidd said. “That’s what big players do. He stepped up and made a big play.”
Johnson finished the game with 20 points (7-16 FG), 12 of them coming in the fourth quarter and beyond.
The game had significant playoff implications for the Nets, who are hanging onto their postseason wishes by a thread. Both the Boston Celtics & Indiana Pacers lost Friday night, putting the Nets just 1.5 games back from the eighth seed with 15 games left on their schedule. After the game, the team traveled to Indiana to take on the Pacers Saturday night, another crucial game for their postseason odds.
The Nets may not go to Joe Johnson again in crunch time, but not even the Bucks can stop him every time — even when the other team knows it’s going to him.