LONDON - The last thing they wanted to do after flying across the pond and spending the last four days here was lay a royal egg and turn in an effort that would have raised questions about their focus.
Joe Johnson made sure that didn't happen.
Not long after Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov said, "We have Joe Jesus and he is best clutch [player] for us," Johnson thrilled a sellout crowd at O2 Arena. He scored 26 of his 29 points in the first half, propelling the Nets to a 127-110 win over the Hawks Thursday night.
Johnson ignited the Nets (16-22), who are 6-1 in 2014, by canning 11 of 15 shots and going 6-for-8 from three-point range. He carved up his old team, fueling an offense that drained a season-high 53 shots in 91 attempts and racked up an eye-popping 38 assists, also a season high.
"Joe got us off to a really good start," coach Jason Kidd said. "But when you look at it, we had four of five starters in double figures. You look at one category that I always enjoyed as a player, and now as a coach, is we had 38 assists. The ball was moving, guys were looking for one another and guys were making shots. The big thing is this was a business trip, and the guys handled the whole situation first-class and I'm proud of those guys."
In dismantling the Hawks, who got 17 points apiece from Mike Scott and Shelvin Mack, the Nets never trailed by more than a point. They led by 33 and were up 99-74 heading into the fourth quarter.
Andray Blatche had 20 points and 14 rebounds off the bench. Paul Pierce added 18 points, Alan Anderson had 15 and Kevin Garnett continued his recent strong play with 12 points on 6-for-8 shooting.
The Nets continued to be free-flowing and confident offensively, even with Deron Williams, who could return Monday against the Knicks, sidelined.
"There's really no rhyme or reason to it," Johnson said. "We are just out there moving the basketball, making the game easy. I think we are doing a great job of exploiting mismatches and making teams play us, and us dictating how we want the game to be played."
That kind of performance surely made their charter flight home this morning all the more enjoyable. After all the sightseeing tours intertwined around practice and NBA-sanctioned responsibilities, blowing away the Hawks had the Nets feeling good about themselves. Now they'll take a few days to collect themselves before their Martin Luther King Jr. Day matinee against the Knicks.
"Tremendous atmosphere," Pierce said. "I mean, we had to come out here and play in front of the London crowd, and have this type of energy and at the same time take care of business . . . Not a lot of times do you get an opportunity to come abroad and enjoy other parts of the world. So I thought we had a chance to do that, and also play in a great arena, play a great game. And thankfully we came out with the win."
Kidd was almost like a proud father, praising the latest impressive effort by these resurgent Nets.
"The credit goes to those guys," he said. "We had appearances, we had two practices. They had time commitments where they had to be at different places. They never complained. They did everything that we've asked on this trip, and the result was getting a 'W' and that's what we came for. We got it and now we have to turn the page, pack our bags, head home and get ready for New York."