EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- For nearly a year, C.J. Watson has proven he can take the heat. He has had to live with criticism from Bulls fans for passing instead of keeping the ball at the end of an elimination game against the 76ers. On Saturday night, Watson, an important Net, showed the Bulls that he can take charge, too.
He was solid and animated, scoring 14 points and shooting 6-for-8 against the team for which he was an emergency starting point guard last spring after Derrick Rose was injured. Watson generally did well back then, but he left after a battery of tweets wondered why he dished to Omer Asik, a poor free-throw shooter whose two misses led to the Bulls' first-round exit.
The Nets' 106-89 win was not a matter of vindication, Watson said Sunday. "The game is not about personal, with what happened in Chicago," the backup point guard said at the Nets' practice facility before a workout to prepare for Game 2 in Brooklyn Monday night. "It's about winning."
Watson did seem to savor big plays, including a key three-pointer. "It's just a big game, just intensity. It turns up a notch in the playoffs," he said. "I want to win, I want to win bad. That's what it is."
Whatever it is, the Nets would like a whole lot more of it from Watson. Interim coach P.J. Carlesimo was unfazed about going stretches without a starter on the floor, largely because Watson and Andray Blatche rose to the occasion. Carlesimo mentioned a sequence in the second half when it looked as if the Bulls were going to cut into the big lead before Watson hit two pivotal baskets.
"He had a monster game for us. He didn't have a good game, he had an excellent game," Carlesimo said. "You know he wants to play well against them, but there's a real familiarity both ways. He knows them, they know him. Sometimes that's not an easy thing to do. You couldn't overstate how well he played and how important that is for us going forward. It doesn't have to be quite as spectacular, but we really need C.J. to be productive. That makes a big difference for us."
It was only one game, but it did make the point to Chicago that Watson isn't a space cadet when it comes to making decisions on the court. He hasn't been a space cadet since he was a kid, enrolled in a California astronaut camp.
"My parents just wanted me to go do something different, get out of the house, stay out of trouble," he said. "We'd just do different space drills, get in spaceships, stuff like that. I don't remember too much about it."
He is happy to say that some things that happened as recently as last year seem like distant memories, too.