ATLANTA - When Joe Johnson’s third-quarter shot failed to draw contact with the rim, knifing through nothing but air before landing on the baseline and going out of bounds, the Philips Arena crowd roared with delight.
At least they had Johnson’s struggles to revel in. For once, the Nets gave them little else to become giddy about.
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With their thoughts focused on maintaining consistency as they jockey for playoff position, the Nets turned in an impressive performance against Atlanta last night. They beat down the punchless Hawks, seizing control in the second quarter and keeping their foot on their necks in their 93-80 victory, the first time the Nets have won in Atlanta since 2008.
“When we are that focused and play with that much attentiveness and that much energy, we can be a really good basketball team,” said interim coach P.J Carlesimo, whose 37-26 Nets tied their season’s high-water mark at 11 games above .500. “We were a really good basketball team tonight. It’s one game, but that’s really, really encouraging — in a back-to-back against a team that’s a very good basketball team.”
Just as he did in his first visit back to Atlanta with the Nets in January, former Hawk Johnson struggled to make much of an impact, finishing with eight points on 4-for-13 shooting, though he did record five assists. He wasn’t very aggressive and didn’t get into much of an offensive flow. But on this night, the final result was different.
“It feels great to come in here and get a win,” Johnson said. “Every time we come back here, I want to win. This time we gave ourselves a chance. It looked a little shaky in the first few minutes, but we regrouped and were able to bounce back.”
The Nets didn’t need a ton of production from Johnson, particularly with the way they had it going in the third quarter, when they led the Hawks (34-28) by as many as 21 points. Though a bit cold from beyond the arc, misfiring on all six three-pointers, the Nets hit 10 of 23 shots from the floor in the period, played solid defense and committed only one turnover.
Atlanta cut the Nets’ lead to 13 with just under six minutes remaining. But when Johnson found C.J. Watson for a wide-open three-pointer that gave the Nets an 87-71 lead with 5:29 to go, Hawks fans headed for the exits.
Brook Lopez had 18 points and nine rebounds, and Andray Blatche added 18 points and four steals for the Nets.
Deron Williams showed he’s human after all, shooting 2-for-7 from three-point range one night after his record-shattering performance against the Wizards in which he connected for an NBA-record nine threes in the first half. Williams had 17 points and six assists last night.
“I still got seven [threes] up,” Williams cracked. “Almost every time you have a big game like that, the next one is not as good. For whatever reason, you cool off and think about it too much. But this is a good win for us, a team win. I wasn’t trying to go out here and get 40 again.
“We just wanted to get the win and this is a good team victory. Everybody played well for us tonight on both ends of the floor, and I’m happy about it.”