EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - His teammates had long since left the court, talked to the media and headed to the showers. His coach, Jason Kidd, was wrapping up his post-practice interview and also was headed off the court.
It didn't seem to matter to Joe Johnson, or even register. The Nets swingman worked alone with an assistant coach for a good 10 more minutes Thursday, inching around the three-point arc taking shot after shot.
Johnson may have been the last man at practice, but he is the first man in the Nets' offense. How he performs when the Nets host the Raptors on Friday night in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series could very well determine whether they can hold on to home-court advantage.
Until the fourth quarter of Game 2, the Raptors had no answer for Johnson. In Game 1, he lit them up for 24 points en route to a 94-87 win in Toronto, and he seemed well on the way to another big game when he scored 12 points in the third quarter of Game 2.
But then former Knick Landry Fields, of all people, came in to guard Johnson, who scored only two points on 1-for-2 shooting in the pivotal final quarter of the Raptors' 100-95 victory.
Does Fields have the magic formula for containing Johnson? The Nets don't think so. They believe it was their own fault that they didn't find a way to keep Johnson the focal point in the fourth quarter, which is something they are looking to fix Friday night.
"He's our glue on offense. He makes things happen," Paul Pierce said. "When he's scoring, it opens things up for the rest of us guys.
"I thought we probably should have gone to him a little bit more the fourth quarter. We need him to continue playing with the consistency that he's doing right now."
Said point guard Deron Williams, "We definitely want to play through Joe a little more, especially down the stretch. We have to do that a little more."
Johnson said Fields, who hadn't played since March 31, didn't do anything special to throw him off his game. Fields did have one notable block of Johnson on the left wing with 4:58 left, but for the most part, the Nets aren't terribly worried that Fields is a defensive stopper.
"It wasn't anything more than him being a fresh body," Johnson said. "It was his moving around a lot, and other than that, it wasn't anything different. No schemes changed. Just things we looked at on tape and will clean up in Game 3."
Kevin Garnett, who has seen a lot of big playoff games in his time, said he has faith that Johnson will return to form in Game 3 because he doesn't let small setbacks disturb him.
"He's poised, he's very poised. There's no rattling him," Garnett said. "He's so calm. He's never too up. He's never too low. He's one of the most poised players I've ever played with."