Josh Newman, SNYNets.comNEW YORK — Deron Williams is the face of the franchise at the most important position on the floor, while Brook Lopez has overcome early injury concerns to play like an All-Star at center. Those two are major cornerstones of a revamped Nets roster, but when the game is on the line, there is little doubt where the ball is headed.
Nets General Manager Billy King traded for Joe Johnson in part for moments like what occurred down the stretch of the Nets' thrilling 88-85 win over the Knicks at Madison Square Garden on Monday evening that tied the season series between the teams, 2-2.
As the Knicks clung to a late 84-83 lead, the man referred to as 'Iso Joe' did just that. With J.R. Smith guarding him on the right wing, Johnson got a step on Smith, pulled up and buried a 16-foot jumper over him to give the Nets the lead for good at 85-84 with 22.3 seconds to play.
"You just relish those moments, man," Johnson said. "My teammates and the coaching staff have the confidence and faith in me down the stretch. I just try to do my best. The play was designed to go to Brook, they doubled, he kicked it out to me and I just tried to read how he was playing me. In those moments down the stretch, I love having the ball in my hand."
Johnson's eventual game-winner capped what had been an up-and-down game in what has been an up-and-down season for the six-time All-Star shooting guard.
He came out on fire in the first quarter, scoring 11 points inside the first eight minutes, while shooting 3-for-3 from 3-point range. He eventually had to sit for a stretch beginning at the 2:35 mark after picking up two soft fouls.
The second and third quarters were not kind to Johnson as he shot 0-for-7 from the field, but he picked it back up in the fourth quarter. Over the final 12 minutes, he shot 4-for-8, including treys on consecutive possessions at one point, and scored 10 of his team-high 25 points.
"That's Joe Johnson, Joe Johnson is a heck of a player," Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. "He hit one earlier (a 16-footer to give the Nets an 83-77 lead with 5:50 to play) when we really needed it bad coming out of a timeout. He's a money player, he's been a money player his entire career. If he didn't, someone else probably could've stepped up too, but we all feel very comfortable when Joe's got the ball in his hands in the fourth quarter."
Johnson's 25 points on Monday night are the most he has scored since a 33-point explosion in a surprising 110-93 romp at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 2. While his season as a whole has been inconsistent, he appears to be slowly but surely figuring it all out.
In 10 games this month, Johnson is averaging 19.3 points per game, which is nearly two points above his season average of 17.4. As Johnson has begun to pick it up in January, so have the Nets, who are 9-1 this month and 11-2 under Carlesimo.
"He's come up big for us all season in clutch games, close games," Williams said. "He's a guy you can throw the ball to and he's gonna make something happen."
The Nets are right in the thick of the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference races. Monday's win leaves them one game behind the first-place Knicks in the Atlantic and fourth-place in the East, just 2.5 games behind the first-place Heat.
The winner of the Atlantic Division is guaranteed a top-4 playoff seed. With the season series between the Knicks and Nets over with each side winning twice, the first tiebreaker is division record. The Nets are currently 9-3 against the Atlantic Divison, while the Knicks are 4-3.
Josh Newman is SNYNets.com’s Field Reporter. Follow him on Twitter for up to the minute news and banter on all things related to the Brooklyn Nets and the NBA