|It wasn't a floater, and it was in 2014, not 2013, but Joe Johnson's buzzer-beating three-pointer tonight in Oklahoma City gave the Brooklyn Nets a win they desperately needed.|
When the Nets played the Oklahoma City Thunder last January 2nd–of 2013–they were a middling 16-15 and has just been blown out by 31 points at the hands of the San Antonio Spurs on New Years' Eve. With all the odds against them, the Nets went into Chesapeake Energy Arena and destroyed the Thunder, kickstarting a seven-game winning steak that took Brooklyn from the fringes of the playoff picture to inside of it.
Well, the 2013-14 Nets faced the same issue this evening, as they had lost handedly to the Spurs on New Years' Eve as well, and headed into their January 2nd, 2014 matchup with the Thunder as a broken, beaten-down team. However, in even more shocking fashion, the Nets came back from a deficit as large as 16 points to beat Oklahoma City on yet another Joe Johnson buzzer-beater.
Last season, the win over the Thunder absolutely transformed the rest of the Nets' year. However, the important question to ask is if it will do the same for this season's incarnation of the Nets. Brooklyn heads home for an all-important four-game homestand with games against the Cavaliers, Hawks, Warriors, and Heat. A few games against top-flight contenders, and some against lower-level competion. Brooklyn has to at least win a few of them, irregardless, in order to keep up the momentum from tonight's win.
If I were to tell you, in the second quarter of this game, that the Nets were going to win, you would probably call me crazy. Brooklyn played well in the opening frame, winning it by three, but fell apart in the second one, as the Thunder outscored the Nets by a score of 33-15, taking a 59-44 lead by halftime. At that point, a Nets win seemed like the furthest thing from possible. Then, the second half happened, and not in a bad way.
Normally, Jason Kidd's squad falls apart in the third quarter of most games. Thankfully, though, games played on January 2nd in Chesapeake Energy Arena against the Thunder aren't like most other games. In this one, the Nets actually won the frame, and continued that energy, intensity, and passion into the fourth, in which they finally strung together a few stops and successful offensive possessions.
The Nets' final push for the win started at the 6:33 mark of the final quarter, when a little Joe Johnson floater–his trademark–began a 14-0 run that brought Brooklyn from 79 to 93 points in just five minutes while keeping steady, at 91, Oklahoma City's point total. Paul Pierce and Deron Williams, two main catalysts for the comeback, each scored five points during that run.
Deron's five points gave the Nets a 93-89 lead, that was whittled down to a 93-93 tie by a pair of layups by Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka. Brooklyn called a timeout, and then gave the ball to Mr. Clutch, Joe Johnson, who drilled a long two-pointer after a series of nifty dribbling moves to provide a ridiculously-needed 95-93 win for his team. What a game.
Some other observations I had from the game: Brooklyn, at least according to a postgame Paul Pierce quote, is now 2-0 when it goes with a small starting lineup–both Deron Williams and Shaun Livingston on the floor to begin the game. Jason Kidd went with the odd assortment of starters–rounded out by Joe Johnson, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett–to shake up the look of the struggling Nets, and it payed off incredibly well. Livingston played pretty good defense overall, "limiting" Kevin Durant as much as he could–still gave up 25 points to him–realistically. He also grabbed some big rebounds…..Deron Williams played his best game of the 2013-14 season, looking like the superstar he has the talent to be. D-Will hit a season-high six threes, and scored 29 points on highly-efficient 10-for-17 shooting. I've said this at some points throughout this young season, but Deron was flying around the court, taking–and making–aggressive shots and playing good defense on who he was tasked with guarding. When was the last time Deron collected five steals in one game?….Paul Pierce, who made just six of the 18 shots he took tonight, was huge down the stretch, hitting a major momentum three-pointer in the fourth quarter and connecting on a few drives to the hoop. Not exactly like the Paul of old, but certainly some shades of that Paul were present tonight….Now to Joe Johnson. What more is there to say that hasn't already been said about this guy? He shot horrifically for much of this game, but came alive late and hit the most important jumper of the whole night, and to be honest, all of 2014 so far for the Nets. According to the New York Post's Tim Bomtemps, with tonight's game-winner, Joe is 6-for-6 from the field–during his Nets tenure–in the final 10 seconds of regulation/OT with a score differential of three or less. Expand that to the final 30 seconds of games, and he's 12-for-14. The numbers speak for themselves. Huge, huge win for the Nets and the perfect way for a struggling team to start off a new year.
The Nets head home, get an off day, and then take on the Cleveland Cavaliers on Saturday night. Will their momentum from tonight persist until then?