Three years ago, the Nets let Anthony Johnson leave after two seasons in New Jersey, thinking they could find a better back-up to Jason Kidd. They still haven't found it, and AJ likes to show them what they're missing every time the Nets and Pacers meet.
"He doesn't really talk much about it," Jermaine O'Neal said. "Obviously, when you play against your former team, you want to put it to them in a bad way."
This season, Johnson averaged 16.0 points and shot .680 in three games against New Jersey, his highest numbers against any team. He didn't shoot particularly well Sunday, but did finish with 12 points, six assists and the game-winning free throws.
The other former Net in a Pacer uniform was important as well. Stephen Jackson played his rookie season in New Jersey and kept the Pacers afloat early in the game when O'Neal was out with foul trouble and Peja Stojakovic was having trouble finding open looks. Jackson scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half, shooting 7-of-10 from the field before the break.
Jones elevated to defend the final shot.
Al Bello/Getty Images/NBAE
Fred Jones had missed the last five games of the regular season with an injured thumb on his left hand and was listed as a game-time decision. In the locker room before the game, he said that he was going to give it a try. He did and he was a huge factor in the Pacers' victory.
Jones entered the game with 3:55 to go in the first quarter and made an immediate impact by hitting from beyond the arc on the next possession. He added a pair of free throws in the Pacers' last possession of the first and then had the highlight of the game early in the second when he drove baseline and threw it down on the Nets' defense. Two possessions later, it was another three and Jones went into halftime 3-for-3 from the field while outscoring the combination of Jermaine O'Neal and Peja Stojakovic in just nine and a half minutes of action.
"From sitting out a few games, I was anxious to get out there and perform," Jones told us. "Once I got on the floor and hit my first shot, it was all back to normal."
Jones was rewarded with more burn in the second half and he showed us the rest of his game. He dished out four assists and grabbed four of his five boards after the break. Jones finished with 15 points (outscoring the Nets' bench by himself) on 4-of-7 from the field (3-of-4 from downtown). It was the type of performance that wins games. Not bad for a guy who wasn't sure if he could play less than an hour before gametime.
"He hasn't played in a while," O'Neal said. "He hasn't even practiced in a while. The effort and the game he had tonight was unbelievable."
The First Time
The Pacers have counted on two rookies in their rotation all season, Danny Granger and Sarunas Jasikevicius. After a slow start to the season, Granger came on strong after the Ron Artest drama started and became a solid contributor after the new year. Jasikevicius started the season playing well, but was inconsistent after the first month or so, even losing his spot in the rotation at one point down the stretch. Both rookies will be counted on here in the playoffs though.
"They're going to play, and for us to win, they're going to have to have a positive impact," Rick Carlisle told us. "We have a lot of confidence that they can."
Each rookie saw about eight and a half minutes of action Sunday, combining for two points, one rebound, three assists and six personal fouls. Granger played some solid defense on Richard Jefferson at times however, and Jasikevicius was counted on to run the offense, backing up Anthony Johnson.
He did commit one turnover though, as he was whistled for an offensive foul when he banged heads with Jacque Vaughn early in the second quarter. Earlier in the season, Vaughn had picked Jasikevicius' pocket twice in one game, and he was in the Lithuanian's shorts every time he brought up the ball.
With his head bleeding, Jasikevicius was forced to retreat to the locker room a possession after he was called for the charge. After the game, we found him sporting a shiner and three stitches over his left eye. We asked him if he thinks the Nets thought they could take advantage of his ball-handling.
"It's not just me," he told us. "I played most of my minutes against Jacque Vaughn and that's what he does anyway. You just gotta deal with it. I had one turnover and other than that, I took care of the ball. That's what's most important."
On the other side of the locker room, Granger admitted to having some butterflies in his first playoff game. He realized that, with the intensity and importance of postseason basketball, there's added pressure to make the most of his minutes.
"I think my leash is probably a little shorter," Granger said. "In the regular season, I could play through my mistakes."