Joe Johnson Adds 2 More to Clutch Resume for Nets
BROOKLYN—In the Nets' locker room at Barclays Center, after Joe Johnson hit his third – third(!) – game-winning shot this season, Gerald Wallace tries to check himself. The veteran forward thinks it, then starts, then stops, then finally lets 'er rip, invoking Michael. MJ. The man you're not supposed to mention without real good reason.
"Joe’s like – I hate to do the comparison to Michael Jordan, but …," Wallace trails off, smiling as reporters laugh. "He’s the guy who, like everybody knew Michael was getting the ball in Chicago for the last shot, everybody in the arena knew Joe was getting the ball. We could’ve put him out there by himself. Well, with someone to take the ball out.
"He just makes plays. I think the biggest thing that people don’t understand about Joe is you can’t rattle him, you can’t get him out of his game, he’s going to get the shot that he wants to get."
Johnson gets it twice on Tuesday: first, coming off a curl screen at the end of regulation, splitting teammates Wallace and Andray Blatche to swish a catch-and-shoot, game-tying three with 1.3 seconds remaining; second, off a straight up 1-4 flat isolation intended to give Johnson all the room he needs, enough to drop in a tightly contested pullup from the free-throw line. The Nets beat the Bucks in overtime, 113-111.
Those two makes boost Johnson's late-game statistics to staggering levels of efficiency. According to NBA.com/Stats, when the Nets are within three points of their opponent in the final 30 seconds of regulation or overtime, Johnson is now 8-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-4 in the final 10 seconds.
The final-moment maestro has managed to raise his play as both scores tighten and time ticks. Stretched out to the limit of the database's definition of "clutch," with the Nets behind or tied by five points in the final five minutes, Johnson is shooting .552 (16-29 FGs). Drop it to the final three minutes and Johnson is .611 (11-18 FGs); the final minute, behind or tied by three, .900 (9-10 FGs).
"In those situations, sitting on the bench when coach draws up a play, he basically puts something in our hands and tells you to come on," Johnson explains. "So I just try to do a great job, trying to get space and trying to make the best play possible. My teammates and coaches have the utmost confidence in me, and I just try to come through in big moments like that."
After so many makes this season, teammates expect them all to go in, though some swear they've been converts long before "Brooklyn" arced across both jerseys. As an opponent of Johnson's, Wallace says he often ended up looking like Bucks forward Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, standing with a hand in the air, wondering exactly how Johnson found room to release such a sure shot after being bodied and short of separation the entire dribble-drive.
The replay makes evident the strength of Mbah a Moute's defense. Caught leaning left on a between-the-legs crossover the other way, Mbah a Moute manages to hold his ground without fouling, allowing his body to absorb Johnson's contact and force a shaky lefthanded dribble. But momentum takes hold, and the split second Mbah a Moute needs to change direction is enough to allow Johnson clearance as he plants and he rises, the shot contested only in effect.
After the game, Mbah a Moute praises Johnson as a "phenomenal" player, shaking off the score by pointing to the numbers:
"This is not the first time he has made shots like this."
No, it is certainly not. Johnson had done it earlier, in the game, in the season, in his career. He will have opportunities to do it again, as the schedule shortens and the games become more crucial, teammates confident in every attempt.
"I'm thinking of how the defense is going to play, or what I'm going to do," Johnson says. "But at the end of the day, when I get the basketball it's instincts, it's reaction … it's nothing … it's playing. I totally read the man who's guarding me and how he's playing, that's it."
No magic to that. It's just Joe, going to get a bucket.
Often, he does.