PHOENIX -- With Deron Williams on the shelf, having sprained one of his troublesome ankles early in the first quarter, the Nets turned to the guy who's been as clutch as anyone in the NBA these past two seasons.
That would be Joe Johnson. Mr. Joe Cool himself.
Johnson hit a driving floater at the overtime buzzer to give the the Nets a wild 100-98 victory over the Suns Friday night at US Airways Arena.
The Nets (3-5) not only snapped their three-game losing streak and won on the road for the first time in five tries but overcame losing Williams 4:40 into the first quarter, playing with a spirit and emotion that hasn't been all that prevalent.
X-rays of Williams' left ankle were negative and the Nets didn't give a timetable for his return. But he was able to muster a smile after the Nets pulled it out without him.
"It was big," Paul Pierce said. "One, it stops the losing streak. Two, we did it without Deron, obviously, without our starting point guard. It shows the type of team that we can be. We can see our potential. With us being down, to not really use a guy that we desperately need as an excuse. Guys really showed their true character and now there's no fooling everybody now. This is who we are . . . . Even though you've got a high-scoring team that runs and gets out on the break, and we had them under 100, that just shows the potential of how we can be."
They still needed Johnson to rescue them against the Suns. Just as he did last season when he shot 8-for-9 with 30 seconds or less remaining in a game and the score within three points.
Kevin Garnett, who snatched 14 rebounds, tapped out Channing Frye's missed three-pointer with just under six seconds remaining and Goran Dragic couldn't get his hands on it, putting it squarely in Johnson's crosshairs. He raced downcourt, splitting P.J. Tucker and floating it up over the outstretched hands of the 6-11 Frye.
"It just felt good," Johnson said. "I couldn't even celebrate, I was so tired. But I was just ready to get out of there. Those guys are trying to celebrate and I'm ready. I'm like, 'Let's go into the locker room and shower and let's get out of here.' We've got a tough game tomorrow."
Looks as if they'll have to face the Clippers Saturday night without Williams' services after he stepped on the foot of Suns forward Miles Plumlee.
Williams was sidelined for the bulk of the preseason after spraining his right ankle and suffering a bone bruise while working out in September. The Nets were extra cautious with him, trying to make sure he was completely healthy before they allowed him to step on the court for live action.
Asked if this sprain is as bad as that one, he said: "Not even close. The other one is an inside ankle sprain. Totally different. It shouldn't be too bad."
Minus Williams, the Nets had one of their best second halves of the season, using a 16-0 third-quarter run that seemed to ignite everyone's spirits.
"I just think we had an attitude adjustment," Pierce said. "It wasn't the offense, it wasn't the defense. It was more of an attitude adjustment. Guys had a sense of pride about them, got sick of losing and we just went out there and showed our fight."
Lopez (27 points, 25 after halftime) and Garnett appeared to bang into each other after Tucker's three-pointer gave the Suns a 92-90 lead with 39.9 seconds left in regulation. Both stayed in the game on the Nets' ensuing possession, one on which Johnson hit a tough runner to tie it at 92 with 29.9 seconds left.
But at least they returned, which wasn't the case for Williams.
"It's frustrating. That's the only way to describe it," he said. "I'm sick of being injured, sick of being hurt. I just want to be healthy so I can help my team."
Nets coach Jason Kidd almost needed some help the way he celebrated Johnson's buzzer-beater, almost as if he were in one of those old-school Toyota commercials.
"I felt like I lost a little weight," he said. "I was sprinting down to the other end of the court. I haven't done that in a while. It was exciting. The tough times that we've been through, this would have been an easy one to let go. It just shows the character of our guys, how they fought."