Just when Brooklyn appeared certain to lose their 14th consecutive game to the Milwaukee Bucks, Joe Johnson stepped up twice to save the day for the Nets, doing something he's done throughout his whole career, and has now done four times this season alone: Hit clutch shots that have helped win games for the Nets.
Johnson was brought in by Nets management to be the team's closer – a role that he struggled with in the early stages of the season – but one that he has become more comfortable in as the games go by. Time and time again this season the Nets have looked to Johnson to make a play with the game on the line, and each time he's delivered. Tonight, just as it seemed certain that Brooklyn had coughed up another double-digit lead in the second-half, Johnson came to the rescue, first with a three off a screen with 1.3 seconds in regulation that tied the game, followed by the game-winner as time expired in the extra period.
The thing with Johnson is, everyone on the opposition team knows who the ball is going to, yet no-one has been able to stop the 6'7 guard from doing what he does best.
Johnson – who finished with 24 points (10/18 field goals) 5 rebounds and 5 assists – has become so clinical in late game situations that the entire team has faith in his ability to close out. Johnson says that gives him more confidence to deliver.
"When those situations occur, and coach draws up a play and basically puts it in my hands and, uh, tells me to come on. I just try to do a good job of getting space and make the best play possible," said Johnson after the game. "My teammates had the utmost confidence in me in the huddle and the coaches and I just try to come through in the big moments like that."
Johnson is now 4/4 from the field in the final 10 seconds of the Nets' overtime victories against the Pistons, Wizards and Bucks and head coach P.J. Carlisemo could not be happier with the output of his closer but he scoffed at suggestions Johnson was making it look too easy.
“I wouldn’t use the word easy,” Coach P. J. Carlesimo said, “but yes, the end of the play is pretty good when it’s in Joe’s hand. It’s what he’s been doing his entire career."
Teammate Gerald Wallace likened Johnson to Michael Jordan in regards to his ability to close teams out.
“Joe’s like, I mean I hate to do the comparison to Michael Jordan, but he’s like the guy – just like in Chicago, everybody knew Michael was getting the ball, everybody in the arena knew Joe was getting the ball,” Wallace said.
For Johnson, it's all a part of his natural game.
“When I get the basketball, it’s instincts, it’s reactions,” Johnson said. “It’s nothing that is planned. I totally read the man who’s guarding me, how he’s playing me, that’s basically it.”
Image via: Mark Bonifacio/New York Daily News