It’s hard living with the expectations of a huge salary when your ability can’t match the expensive contract. Once in a while, Joe Johnson shows he still has what it takes to be a prime time player, leading the Brooklyn Nets with some clutch shooting in the fourth to beat the New York Knicks.
The P.J. Carlesimo revolution didn’t pass over Johnson, who has been playing his best basketball of the season in January, averaging 19.9 points. After a rough night in the loss to the Atlanta Hawks, Johnson bounced back with 18 in the revenge win and was even better against the Knicks, scoring 25 points; 10 of them in the fourth quarter, including a go-ahead jumper with 22 second left in the game, giving the Nets their 88-85 win against the city rivals.
The talk between both teams before and after the game was about the city rivalry, about how it’s here to stay. It seemed like all they’ve been doing this season is attempting to shift the focus of the NBA fans from the Miami Heat, Oklahoma City Thunder and whatever it is the Los Angeles Lakers are doing on to them, as both teams control the Atlantic Division, the Nets now only one game behind the Knicks.
For the Nets it was a game planned well. They let Carmelo Anthony get his shots, but denied him the opportunity to make others work and score in crunch time. Anthony finished with 29 points, his 26th consecutive game with 20 points or more, but he had an awful shooting night, making only 11-29 from the field and 1-2 from beyond the arc. He did add 7 assists, but the Knicks couldn’t get any of their other important hot hands going: J.R. Smith kept shooting no matter if he had a good shot or not, while Steve Novak was limited to 0 points on 0-4 from the field.
The Brooklyn Nets look like a new team, an energized one under P.J. Carlesimo, and Joe Johnson is the one enjoying the change the most. Deron Williams is feeling more comfortable in this offense, where he isn’t the first option to score. Williams scored 14 points and added 12 assists, but also missed his first free throw this month after hitting 51 shots in January, his last miss coming on December 29.
Controlling the boards was very important, keeping Tyson Chandler, Amare Stoudemire and Anthony off the offensive glass. The Nets won the rebounding battle 52-40 and had two players (Brook Lopez and Kris Humphries) end up with a double double, while Reggie Evans also grabbed nine of his own.
The Nets improved to 9-1 in January, allowing over 100 points only twice these past two weeks. Giving Reggie Evans more time on the floor while giving Deron Williams a much more comfortable position in this offense is just part of the story. Carlesimo, a great coach but with some questionable individual traits, seems to be a changed man, and someone who was able to get the proper response from a group of players who probably weren’t too far from quitting on their previous head coach until the change was made.