Joe Johnson hasn’t had an auspicious start to the 2014-15 campaign for the Brooklyn Nets. Johnson was the team’s go-to guy in late-game situations the past two seasons – especially in the absence of Brook Lopez – but the forward has been struggling to find his shot since calling out his teammates for being selfish on Nov. 9.
In the six games leading up to Tuesday night’s game against the Knicks, Johnson was averaging just 11.3 points on 39.1 percent shooting. In three of those six games, Johnson finished the evening in single-digit scoring. He attempted just seven shots on Sunday versus Chicago. Not quite the output coach Lionel Hollins is expecting from a star like Johnson.
Hollins must have been wondering if aliens had drained Johnson of his shooting prowess at halftime of the game at Madison Square Garden – he had just three points, all off free-throws. The All-Star forward was 0-for-4 from the field.
But, Johnson emerged from the break looking like the player of old. He shot 7-for-10 in the second half, finishing with 22 points, 6 assists and eight rebounds, helping the Nets (7-9) beat cross-town rivals, the Knicks (4-15), for the second time this season, 98-93.
“I was trying to get him involved early, but every time we ran a play he made a pass to somebody else,” Hollins said.”He was 0-4 in the first half and then he came back in the second and he was 7-10.”
Johnson is still adjusting from being the focal point of Jason Kidd’s offense last season, to being another option under Hollins.
“I have to fly around and try to be aggressive anyway I can,” said Johnson post-game. Whether it’s hitting the glass, getting the rebound, pushing to make plays … I have to get back to doing that.”
On Tuesday night, Johnson was also asked to defend Carmelo Anthony for crucial stretches of the second-half – Anthony had just five points in that period, and missed eight-of-nine field goals in the final term, including a potential game-tying three-pointer with 9 seconds remaining.
“Man, just try to make every shot he takes tough,” Johnson said. “You know it’s going to be a physical game. You got to know that when you play against him. Anytime he took a shot, [I] just tried to have a hand up, tried to defend him in some form or fashion, but obviously, he’s going to make some of those tough shots and he did.”
Kevin Garnett praised Johnson’s game: “When we needed him to be aggressive he was aggressive, and he made some great baskets at some key moments in the game.”
Johnson’s return-to-form came just one day after Nets’ GM Billy King gave a less-than-resounding endorsement about whether his core three can still compete, proving that Brooklyn can still be a playoff team as long as all it’s stars align.
Feature image credit: Howard Simmons/New York Daily News