This was the Nets' chance to make that statement Joe Johnson was talking about, their time to shine on national television against one of the teams they figure to be chasing.
The Nets knew they had to find a way to win Thursday night's game against the Celtics, particularly with Rajon Rondo sidelined. They did just that, thanks in part to Johnson's late-game heroics.
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Johnson found his shooting stroke and made two big baskets during a critical fourth-quarter stretch as the Nets won, 102-97, before a sellout crowd of 17,732 at the Barclays Center.
The Nets outscored the Celtics 28-18 in the fourth quarter as they won their fourth straight.
"It was definitely a test," Johnson said. "Against the great teams in the Eastern Conference -- Boston, Miami -- we really want to focus in and see what we are made of, and tonight I thought we did a pretty good job. You can say it all day, but if you don't do it, then that's another thing . . . In that fourth quarter and down the stretch, we made big plays."
Boston held a five-point lead at the start of the fourth, but the score was tied at 87 with just over three minutes left when Johnson hit a 12-foot fallaway jumper to put the Nets (5-2) ahead. He had been struggling, hitting 5 of 16 attempts before swishing that big shot.
He nailed another jumper with 2:27 left for a 91-87 lead.
"I just wanted to be aggressive," Johnson said, "and just try to make something happen."
Deron Williams hit two free throws with 43 seconds left to make it 95-92. Paul Pierce then was fouled but missed both free throws with 34.5 seconds left.
"They seem to be a lot more confident," Garnett said of the new-look Nets. " . . . You can see they're more confident and know their roles."
"This was a huge win for us, even though they didn't have Rondo," Williams said. "It's still a big win for us because we didn't have Gerald [Wallace], which is a big part of our team. We came out and battled, made a run. We were able to sustain that run, knocked down our free throws at the end of the game, made some key stops when we needed to. So this was a huge win for us."
Lopez and Williams scored 24 points each. Johnson had 19 points and Kris Humphries had 10 points and 13 rebounds. Pierce led the Celtics with 22 points, followed by Leandro Barbosa (17) and Garnett (14).
Boston (5-4) was missing its star point guard because of an ankle injury, and the Nets' own All-Star point guard got a brief scare with 10:17 left in the third quarter. Williams was maneuvering his way to the basket, spinning off Barbosa, when he awkwardly twisted his right leg.
"It's in between my Achilles and my calf," Williams said, describing where he felt the pain. "It will be all right by Sunday. That's all that matters . . . It was already sore and had been bothering me the first half."
A solid win over the Celtics probably helped soothe the pain.
"It was big for us because we are still trying to gain confidence," Jerry Stackhouse said. "We won three in a row before tonight, but realistically, we hadn't played any elite-level teams. We feel like that's an elite-level team that we beat tonight . . . We take this as a huge confidence-booster. We've still got a lot to prove as far as going out on the road and trying to get these wins, but this was a step in the right direction tonight."