NEW YORK Craving a victory over a top team, all the Brooklyn Nets needed was someone to make a couple of big shots.
That’s one of the reasons they traded for Joe Johnson.
Johnson made the tiebreaking basket with 3:03 left, followed with another jumper, and the Nets beat the Boston Celtics 102-97 on Thursday night for their fourth straight victory.
Johnson finished only 6 of 17 from the field, but he had the two biggest makes of the game in the biggest victory his new team has recorded since acquiring him from Atlanta.
“When you’re struggling like that, a lot of times we remember what happens in the fourth quarter. (Like) a baseball player. He goes 0 for 3, but he gets up in the ninth inning and hits a home run or a double to bring somebody in. That’s what you remember and it’s the same thing tonight with Joe,” Nets coach Avery Johnson said. “He struggled a little bit but I thought he did a good job to get quality shots.”
Especially since fellow All-Star guard Deron Williams was fighting through a foot or ankle injury after getting hit on a spin move earlier in the game.
“Down the stretch I die for moments like that,” Joe Johnson said.
“I just didn’t make shots like I normally do, but in the last three or four minutes of the game I tried to focus a little more and just be a little more aggressive.”
Williams and Brook Lopez each scored 24 points for the Nets, who were blown out by Miami in their lone game against a top opponent this season, their first with a rebuilt team and high expectations in Brooklyn.
So they didn’t hide how much it meant to beat the perennial Atlantic Division champions.
“This was a huge win for us,” Williams said.
Williams had eight assists and made all nine free throws on a night Paul Pierce had two huge misses from the line in the final minute for the Celtics, who played without injured point guard Rajon Rondo.
Johnson finished with 19 points and eight rebounds for the Nets in front of a sold-out crowd of 17,732 that was divided but certainly loud in the tense, final minutes.
Pierce scored 22 points and Leandro Barbosa had 17 in place of Rondo, who was out with a sprained right ankle. Kevin Garnett added 14 points but Boston had its three-game win streak snapped and lost to the Nets for just the third time in the past 21 meetings.
Boston led 79-74 after three before the Nets evened it up at 85 on Jerry Stackhouse’s 3-pointer with 6:21 to play. It was still tied before Johnson made consecutive jumpers and Lopez scored on a follow shot for a six-point lead, and the Celtics could never catch up – especially when Pierce missed two free throws with 34.5 seconds left and Boston trailing by three.
Pierce’s layup attempt had barely missed while he was fouled. Instead of the game potentially being tied with a basket and free throw, the Celtics were still down three after the 83.6 percent free throw shooter coming in clanged them both.
“I think I was thinking about the layup too much, a little disappointed. It was unlike me to miss two free throws,” Pierce said. “So I take a lot of blame for down the stretch. I’m the guy they call upon to make the plays and I didn’t make the plays tonight. It’s a long season, but that’s not the main reason we lost tonight. You can point to a number of little things we talk about all season long.”
Rondo was hurt in the third quarter Wednesday night in a home victory over Utah. Without the NBA leader in assists, averaging 12.6, coach Doc Rivers said the playbook would be reduced because Barbosa didn’t fully know the offense yet.
But the speedy Brazilian created for himself just fine, blowing by defenders for layups though finishing with just two assists.
Avery Johnson said the Nets needed a breakthrough against a quality opponent such as Boston and was interested to see how far his team had come since the Celtics smashed them 115-85 here in the preseason, a night he felt the longtime Atlantic Division rulers were trying to send a message to his team.
The Nets have definitely closed the gap.
They had led by 20 or more in their past three home games and opened a 13-point cushion early in the third quarter of this one.
But Pierce, who had a quiet six-point first half, suddenly got going midway through the period with a 3-pointer and basket as the Celtics fans – still noticeable around the arena though not nearly to the extent as when the Nets played in New Jersey – became more vocal.
When he picked up his fourth foul and Rivers sent Jeff Green to the table to check in for him, Pierce pleaded to stay, Rivers agreed, and Pierce made the gamble pay off with consecutive baskets that gave Boston a 73-71 lead.
The Nets shot out to a quick 11-point lead that was trimmed to 31-26 after one quarter. Brooklyn kept its lead throughout the second quarter, using 15 offensive rebounds in the first half to score 19 second-chance points and build a 59-50 advantage.
“I was disappointed with our effort in the first half. I thought they just kicked our butts in the first half,” Rivers said. “I thought they were more physical, went over our backs, pushed us around. In the second half, we did that. And the fourth quarter I thought we had great shots, we just couldn’t make any of them.”