Recap: Nets 105, Nuggets 104 - “Joe Johnson Delivers at the Horn!”
Let’s set the stage for the final possession of the Brooklyn Nets’ 105-104 home victory over the visiting Denver Nuggets…
The Nets thankfully did not resemble the team that took the floor Saturday in their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers. Monday’s squad played aggressively from the opening possession and attacked the basket with a specific plan against the younger, deeper, and more athletic Nuggets team, and looked to exploit any size mismatches they could generate. Post-ups became commonplace whenever Gary Harris or Will Barton switched onto a taller player, and Brooklyn guards found early success in getting to the middle of the lane and drawing a Denver center before dropping passes down to Thaddeus Young or Brook Lopez on either block.
Thaddeus Young continued his strong play from Saturday and again led the Nets in scoring with a 20-point effort, and seemed more active not only around the basket but in recovering on help defense. Denver’s Kenneth Faried responded with some hustle plays on the opposite end and was determined to finish an alley-oop at some point in the game, but was yet another defender who forgot to read the scouting reports and allowed Young to get to his left-handed release point at will.
The second quarter featured the debut of Nets rookie first-round pick Chris McCullough, and the lanky forward almost immediately made his presence known with a blocked shot on a Mike Miller layup attempt (see above). He was extremely active on the offensive boards and kept opportunities alive for teammates, and yet mostly looked out of position on offense as he picks up the playbook. While his jumper remains a key to his long-term development, his first career made basket came on a face-up jump shot off of a Thomas Robinson kick out, although he would miss two more attempts around the basket later in a fourth-quarter shift.
Denver came out as the aggressors, post-halftime, and continued to run their sets to improved results, as Gary Harris and Danilo Gallinari suddenly had more shooting space after coming off of screens. Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay provided a consistent push of the basketball on long rebounds and put pressure on Brooklyn guards to get back in transition, which, in turn, forced Thaddeus Young to hustle back to prevent any Kenneth Faried leak-outs.
Second-year guard Markel Brown sustained his second-consecutive strong game, in scoring a career-high 19 points on 6/10 shooting and in 24 minutes. His confidence has soared at points in his sophomore season, despite some inconsistent playing time, and especially in an improving jumper from both the mid-range pull-up and also the catch-and-shoot (and corner) three. Interim head coach Tony Brown responded to the effort of Brown and Shane Larkin (nine points and four assists to three turnovers, in 22 minutes) by going to his young backcourt to close the game, which led to some defensive activity off-ball in staying with Denver guards through high-screens, and also a costly late-game turnover from Markel Brown on an entry pass to Brook Lopez.
Shane Larkin would get caught switching onto Kenneth Faried’s driving layup on Denver’s last possession (see above), and though he would surrender the score with 1.3 seconds remaining, Larkin displayed pretty good awareness in not only picking up Faried’s fake dribble-handoff and sliding his feet on the drive, but also in sliding underneath him in an attempt to bother the shot - which, to be fair, is probably his best defensive chance as a 5’10” point guard. Faried is off-balance, yet the layup goes in, and, at least according to InPredictable’s Win Probability numbers, the game was over.
Enter Joe Johnson.
We’ll let him explain his game-winning three-pointer over Danilo Gallinari, which comes courtesy of Sarah Kustok’s post-game interview:
“The play wasn’t for me. It was designed to get it to Brook in the paint, try to get a layup and go into overtime. But I knew I was going to come off scot-free and ‘Kel seen me, and I knew I had time to at least take a dribble, so I took a dribble and shot it.”
It’s a bit more complicated than “Joe Cool” is giving himself credit for, as he flashes to the top of the key to collect the inbounds pass from Markel Brown (who I might have to start referring to as ‘Kel in all future recaps), dribbles and throws a couple of headfakes at ‘Nilo, then gets well underneath the jumper to put it off the glass and win the game. One of the more blatant ways to tell if Johnson’s feeling it on a given night is to look at the loft of his jumper, along with the quality of his shake moves while dribbling the basketball. By those metrics, he was indeed feeling it on Monday against the Nuggets, as Jusuf Nurkic’s poor ankles can attest to.
If Kenneth Faried was off-balance in his go-ahead basket seconds earlier, then Joe Johnson’s fadeaway game winner was fortuitous, to say the least. And while the Brooklyn Nets, who have suffered three separate five-game losing streaks already in 2016, could certainly use some good fortune going forward, Joe Johnson’s dramatic, end-of-game track record denotes forces far beyond luck, as he notches another game winner to his career totals.
Most Game-Winning Buzzer-Beaters
Last 10 Seasons
Joe Johnson 7 (including tonight)
Monta Ellis 4
Andre Iguodala 4
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 9, 2016
The Brooklyn Nets have suddenly won two of their last three games, putting their record at 14-39 on the season. They’ll play next on Wednesday, at the Barclays Center against the (30-22) Memphis Grizzlies.
One more note and piece of media to address from tonight’s game-winning basket from Joe Johnson is the response by the rest of the Brooklyn Nets team, and even Johnson himself. Known as “Joe Cool” for his icy on-court demeanor, Johnson has been derided throughout his career as being detached or dispassionate about the game due to his lack of emotional expression on the court, but his reaction to the latest of his game winners is anything but robotic. Rare are the moments when Johnson appears to let down his guard while in the presence of cameras, and the ensuing seconds as the buzzer sounds are about as exuberant and in-the-moment as I’ve seen Joe Johnson in my almost-two seasons now covering him.
(I also can’t help but rewind the opening interview question from Kustok over and over again, to appreciate the sly smile from Johnson as she mentions how she “misses talking to [him] after these buzzer beaters.”)
Also adorable is the reaction by the ever-emoting Brook Lopez, following Joe Johnson’s end-game heroics. It’s been a long season for this particular Nets team as they’ve suffered for Billy King’s basketball sins, but the locker room has seemed to stay positive and connected all season and through all of the losing. Brook Lopez’s goofy demeanor probably helps, as he’s tried to grow into the team’s leader and hold the younger players accountable, and seeing him finally catch up to Johnson and embrace both he and Thomas Robinson was a nice moment for a team that hasn’t had many of which to celebrate so far this season.