OKLAHOMA CITY -- It was almost as if they had come to the nation's heartland in a DeLorean, not some chartered plane.
There the Nets were, in the same scenario they faced precisely a year ago. It's as if the schedule-maker simply did a copy-and-paste job, sending the Nets straight from San Antonio on the heels of a New Year's Eve blowout for a date with the Thunder the day after the calendar officially flipped over.
Talk about hopping into a time machine.
Needing a win in the worst way, just as they did a year ago after being routed by the Spurs, the Nets turned in one of their most inspired and unexpected performances of the season Thursday night. Joe Johnson swished a 19-foot jumper over the outstretched hands of Serge Ibaka just as the buzzer sounded, giving the Nets a wild 95-93 victory over Oklahoma City and creating a weird aura of deja vu.
"Yeah, it is pretty funny, man," said Johnson, who had done little before hitting the game-winner and finished with nine points and 4-for-11 shooting. "For whatever it means, hopefully it's something positive. But this is definitely the point where our season turned around last year. Same scenario: Didn't do nothing in San Antonio and come here and get a win.
"Who knows, man. We talk about building as a team, talking about being confident. Now moving on to the next game, now we've got to see if we can continue to play at a high level. That's the main thing."
The Nets (11-21) stormed all the way back from a 16-point third-quarter deficit, outscoring the Thunder 29-16 in the fourth quarter, including a 14-0 run. They held the Thunder (25-7) to 34 second-half points, the fewest they've allowed after halftime all season.
Still, they needed one final clutch basket from the guy who's made so many of them. In the past season-plus, during the final 30 seconds of a game in which the margin is no more than three points, Johnson is 12-for-14.
Naturally, he asked Jason Kidd for the ball. And Kidd obliged.
"We believe in him. He has the resume," said Paul Pierce, who started at power forward as Kidd teamed him with Deron Williams (season-high 29 points, six three-pointers, five steals), Shaun Livingston, Johnson and Kevin Garnett. "When you have the resume, everybody's trust is in him. You know, we trust him that he's gonna get the good shot. It's good to have a guy like that on your team.
"We believe. I mean, it don't matter. I could have been on fire. D-Will's on fire. This is our guy down the stretch. Like I said, the resume is there. He's our guy, and if he's 1-for-15 or 1-for-20, we want him with the ball with five seconds left on the clock."
After Ibaka's layup tied the score with 5.8 seconds remaining, the Nets called a timeout. Then Johnson received a handoff from Garnett and took a few dribbles right to set himself up and get a little room before letting it loose. Johnson immediately started motoring downcourt, knowing he had given the Nets a much-needed victory. Not bad for a guy who could barely see the rim over the outstretched hands of the 6-10 Ibaka.
"Just a little bit," Johnson said. "I didn't even try to look at the goal until I came out of my move and went up for my shot. That's when I looked. I just in my head had the clock going down, and like I said, I wanted to make sure we got the last shot. I knew Ibaka was long and I had to put some arc on it."
Johnson's teammates were euphoric. "You already know what it is," Garnett said. "C'mon, man. It was like a happy new year, man. We needed that. Straight up, man. Oh, man. You have no idea. It was a great morale win for us."
Williams shot 10-for-17, and his six three-pointers represented a season high. His five steals tied his career high, no doubt an encouraging sign for the Nets after his sluggish start to the season.
"It's a good way to start the new year," Williams said. "It's a clean slate, I guess, and so hopefully we can build on it. This is a great win, a hard-fought victory to come back like that in a tough place to play like this. So it showed a lot. It showed a lot of character and toughness, and hopefully we can continue to play like this."
For once, the Nets not only hung tough with one of the league's upper crust but didn't falter, instead making the critical plays in the game's closing moments. That created a fun ride home -- even if they were headed straight into a snowstorm.
"It felt great. It felt great, man," Johnson said. "We haven't even been in the game against some of the top-tiered teams in the league. So to be in the game tonight was a plus for us, and I knew if we could stay close with the last five minutes, we had a great chance of winning."