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Nets beat Hawks for third straight victory

Mirza Teletovic reacts after scoring a three-pointer in

Mirza Teletovic reacts after scoring a three-pointer in the second half of a game against the Atlanta Hawks. (Jan. 6, 2014) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

There was a pop princess in their midst, a world-class celebrity who commanded the crowd's attention from the very moment they plastered her face up on the video board in high definition.

Given that she was perched in Jay Z's seats, it's probably a safe bet that Rihanna didn't actually purchase the tickets to the Nets' 91-86 victory over the Hawks Monday night at Barclays Center. If she had, even the multi-millionaire recording artist initially might've been clamoring for a refund after watching the Nets turn in an uninspiring first half.

They drew a bevy of frustrated remarks from the 15,326 in attendance as they left the court staring at a six-point deficit.

But "Joe Jesus," as Kevin Garnett called Joe Johnson, kicked it into high gear just in time.

Playing without Deron Williams, who sat out with a sprained left ankle, and utilizing their 16th different starting lineup this season, the Nets (13-21) made just enough plays in the fourth quarter to earn their third straight victory, tying their season high.

They got a few clutch buckets from Johnson, who scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter, and found the right mix of offensive and defensive juice to beat Atlanta, the team they'll meet in London on Jan. 16 as part of the NBA's Global Games outreach.

"It feels good to be able to make some plays down the stretch," Johnson said. "It seems like we were in a little rut a little bit in that fourth quarter, man, and just kind of got contagious and started making plays and making shots."

Johnson, who had 15 points in the second half, shot 3-for-5 in the fourth quarter, igniting the Nets after the Hawks (18-17) took a one-point lead with 6:36 to play. Johnson buried a three-pointer with 6:19 remaining that gave the Nets the lead for good at 80-78.

"He wasn't real happy with some of the threes that he missed," Garnett said, "and just to see him kind of take it over and be 'Joe Jesus,' as we like to call him, because when you call on him, he might not be there, but he's there when you need him."

Mirza Teletovic added 16 points off the bench, shooting 4-for-9 from beyond the arc. Alan Anderson, who got the start at shooting guard with Williams out, scored 14 and Shaun Livingston had 12.

The Nets registered one of their better defensive efforts of the season, at least statistically.

In limiting Atlanta to 15 points, the Nets established a new season low for points yielded in a third quarter this season. That was no small feat, considering their well-documented struggles in turning things up a notch or two immediately after halftime. They wound up allowing only 34 points in the second half, three more than the Hawks scored in the second quarter.

It was a good start to a week that features dates with the Warriors, Heat and Atlantic Division-leading Raptors, three true tests to gauge just how much the Nets have improved in their 3-0 start in 2014.

"Ever since the new year, we've obviously tried to turn this thing around,'' Garnett said, "and not just from an energy standpoint, just for each other. It started in OKC [Thursday], when you started to see guys playing for one another. The small lineup is effective for us and we have a lot of confidence in it."

New York Sports