Where would the Nets be without Joe Johnson?

Joe Johnson of the Nets celebrates after a Joe Johnson of the Nets celebrates after a basket in the first half against the Golden State Warriors at Barclays Center. (Jan. 8, 2014) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

advertisement | advertise on newsday

LONDON -- Joe Johnson was sandwiched between Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett at the postgame podium, marking one of the few times he had been contained all night -- and lately, for that matter.

Pierce and Garnett already were familiar with Johnson's skills long before the duo came to the Nets in a package deal. But now that they're on the same side, riding shotgun with the team's go-to guy in the clutch, they're enjoying the up-close view of his ability and coolness.

"We've got the best seat in the house," Garnett said after Johnson scored 29 points in the Nets' 127-110 win over the Hawks here Thursday, "especially for a guy who has the skill level that he has. We are so used to being in that situation ourself. It's good to see that you can just have a guy who can take the game over. It's beautiful, man."

The Nets were built around Deron Williams and Brook Lopez, with thoughts they'd carry them into the franchise's rebirth in Brooklyn. However, there's little doubt who's been the team's best player since general manager Billy King pried Johnson and his hefty contract away from Atlanta two summers ago, swinging a deal with Duke buddy Danny Ferry, the Hawks' general manager.

Think about it: Who knows where the Nets would be without Johnson? His scoring prowess and ability to create mismatches with his 6-7, 240-pound frame is uncanny, at times leaving his own teammates in awe. He's averaging 24.4 points and 4.4 assists in his last five games, hitting a blistering 46.4 percent of his three-point attempts.

"I think Joe is a tremendous player," Andrei Kirilenko said. "He can find different opportunities, inside-outside. And for his position, he's pretty strong with his body. So he's probably one of the best players who can play with his back to the basket.

"When he's already made like two or three shots, you know he's going to be double-teamed. It opens up so many opportunities for other guys, and I will give him huge credit, not only for making those shots but getting so much attention so other guys can kind of move freely."

Nothing fazes Johnson. He almost chuckles in the face of adversity, relying on his laid-back Arkansas vibe to stave off stress.

"Nah, no pressure at all," he said. "Just try to come out and take what the defense gives me. I think my coaches and my teammates, man, we all do a great job of helping each other out. So it make the game a lot easier."

"It's beautiful to watch," Pierce said. "I mean, as a player, me and Kevin, we've had days where we'd be hot, but we were the only player on that team . . . So when you have that teammate who can do that, it's fun. I feed off of it, the teammates feed off of it, the crowd feeds off of it. The good part about it is the guys want him to keep going and it's a joy to be a part of."

Call him Joe Jesus, Joe Cool, Cool Hand Luke or whatever. The guy has been a lifesaver, helping to pull the Nets out of their early-season doldrums.

"Joe's been off the charts," coach Jason Kidd said. "Not just the last few games, but the whole season. He's been big for us. He's the one we've asked to play more minutes, to guard more guys that might be involved in more plays defensively, and he's a guy that never said no, I don't want to do something. To have a player like that [and] be able to coach [him] is a blessing."

You also may be interested in: