DALLAS - Jason Kidd wasn't exactly roaming courtside with a bunch of bills pinned to his gray two-piece suit, that universal old-school indicator signaling it was his birthday.
There's little doubt that his players had a pretty good idea that their coach had turned 41, and they probably figured that knocking off the team with which Kidd won a championship three seasons ago would serve as a lovely gift.
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For a while, it looked as if Kidd would have to settle for an ice cream cake instead. But Joe Johnson discovered his offense just in time.
Johnson tied it in regulation by hitting an uncontested layup with 9.9 seconds left and put the Nets ahead for good early in overtime with a straightaway three-pointer, propelling the Nets to a 107-104 victory over the Mavericks at American Airlines Center Sunday night.
Johnson had 22 points and Marcus Thornton added 20 off the bench for the Nets (37-31), who remained 11/2 games behind the Atlantic Division-leading Raptors and one game below the Bulls in the race for the conference's fourth seed.
Deron Williams, playing in his hometown, had 15 points, including a three-pointer that gave the Nets a 103-95 lead with 1:26 left. Paul Pierce's two free throws with 5.4 seconds to play put the bow on Kidd's birthday present.
"It was huge," Johnson said. "For him, not only just his birthday, but him coming back to Dallas. D-Will coming back home to Dallas, that's big, man. That means a lot to those guys, so I was happy to pull it out."
Starting off a stretch of three road games in four days, the Nets played catch-up for most of the night and had to rally from a 16-point deficit. But they turned things up a notch late, using a 16-4 run spanning the fourth quarter and overtime to take down the Mavs (42-29).
Although Monta Ellis burned them for 32 points and Samuel Dalembert was a force inside with 15 rebounds and seven blocks, the Nets never let Dirk Nowitzki (2-for-12, 10 points) get going and seized what they believe was one of their best victories of the season.
"I think so," Williams said. "We battled tonight. Things weren't going good for us early. We were missing shots, we were shooting like 33 percent from the field. We just found a way to win, got it going in the second half, I think, with defense. Guys did a great job on Dirk, starting with Paul. We stuck to our game plan in that second half and played better offensively."
The Nets were unconscious from the floor in overtime, shooting 5-for-7. Johnson's three-pointer with 3:57 left gave the Nets a 96-93 lead they never relinquished.
Johnson was assertive and aggressive in the waning minutes, again proving his value in the clutch.
"Down the stretch, man, those are moments that I relish and I love," Johnson said. "They are not going to double. It's tough, man, to stop a guy one-on-one, especially a scorer. I was able to make plays. When they doubled, I was able to kick it out, and other guys made plays as well."
Said Williams: "He's clutch, man. That's the reason the ball is in his hands at the end of games."
Johnson's heroics had the Nets downright giddy, knowing they finally were able to get a quality win on the road.
"Just one word: Grit. This is one of those gritty games right there," Pierce said. "Most of the game, things didn't go our way, really didn't get a lot of calls. The guys just stuck in there and grinded it out."
"I think we really grew tonight as a team coming on the road, hostile environment, being down most of the game. We are starting to show the true character of this ballclub."