Less than 90 minutes before they threw the ball in the air at the Barclays Center Thursday night, Avery Johnson was talking about needing a signature victory.
Johnson thought a win over the Celtics would do wonders for the Nets’ psyche, providing them with an early-season breakthrough moment. They had beaten Boston only once in the previous seven tries and just twice in 20 meetings entering the night.
With that in mind, you can only imagine the feeling among the Nets in the aftermath of their 102-97 triumph.
“This is one of the biggest games that we’ve had in our two-plus years being here,” Johnson said, “and especially in our new home here in the Barclays Center with our fans. It’s just so fun because I remember when the Celtics would come to our games, the last two years, they would have 75, 80 percent of the fans
“So it’s great to see now. We have our fans. Obviously, you hear them hollering, ‘Brooklyn!’ a lot in the fourth quarter. It’s really fun to be a part of.”
On to the Three Pointers:
--* Iso Joe returned ... and it’s because Avery called for it.
Joe Johnson’s shot was off for the better part of the game’s three quarters, but he regained it just in time to be that go-to guy the Nets need in the closing moments. Joe made 3-of-6 attempts, all critical baskets during the final minutes. His nine fourth-quarter points were the most scored by anyone on either side.
Avery made sure the Nets delivered the ball into Joe’s hands in his comfort zone.
“We ran a play where he’s familiar with, where he likes to get the ball -- in the middle of the floor -- and he made plays for us,” Avery said. “I think he was 2-for-10 at one time, and when you are struggling like that, a lot of times, we only remember what happens in the fourth quarter.
“A baseball player, he goes 0-for-3, but he gets up in the ninth inning and hits a home run or a double to bring somebody in, that’s what you remember. And it’s the same thing [Thursday] with Joe. He struggled a little bit, but I thought he did a good job of getting quality shots, his shots.”
For Joe, it was all about keeping that shooter’s mentality, particularly since he knew Deron Williams wasn’t at full strength after twisting his right leg near the start of the second half.
“Can’t worry about the last shot,” he said. “You’ve got to worry about the next one and in that fourth quarter. D was telling me we had to be more aggressive and make plays. I understood he was kind of gimpy a little bit, and I just tried to be aggressive and make something happen.”
--* Lots of opinions out there regarding Avery’s decision to have his guys foul at the end of the game. The way things unfolded was almost college-basketball like.
Once Paul Pierce dribbled to the top of the key and drained that three-pointer with 24 seconds left, slicing the Nets’ lead to 97-95 a mere 4.7 seconds after Joe Johnson’s free throw gave them a 97-92 advantage, Avery felt that was his signal to start fouling.
With the Nets up 99-95, Joe Johnson hacked Pierce after four seconds had elapsed off the clock following Deron Williams’ free throw. Pierce cut it to 99-97. Then, after two Williams free throws handed them a 101-97 lead, C.J. Watson fouled Jason Terry, who missed both free throws with 11.6 seconds remaining.
“Did you see Piece come up with the pull-up three?” Johnson said after the game when asked about the strategy. “I had in my mid that he was probably going to do it again, so I played the foul game. It’s a coaching decision. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. The main thing was, we didn’t do a good job guarding Pierce at the three-point line. He doesn’t need much space. Rondo doesn’t need much space. I’ve coached Jason Terry. He doesn’t need any space.
"So I thought fouling was the best strategy and also, they were out of timeouts.”
Asked if that means he doesn’t trust his team’s defense, Johnson said: “It’s not about trusting. It’s a strategy. You do what you’ve got to do to win and that’s what we thought was the appropriate strategy.
Like I said, sometimes, it works, sometimes it doesn’t.
“I’m not necessarily a foul guy in those situations. But considering what we were dealing with, we just wanted to go with that and fortunately it worked out for us.”
Williams chucked a bit when the Hack-a-Celtic question was brought up.
“Free throws,” he said. “You have to make those free throws in that situation, because if you don’t, then that tactic backfires. So. I was just happy we made the shots.”
--* C.J. was way too hesitant. Seemed like he didn’t trust his touch. But with his stroke, he has to rise and fire.
The Nets’ bench sparkplug took eight shots, misfiring on all but two. He went 1-for-4 from beyond the arc, finishing with five points, two assists, two steals and a pair of turnovers in 20 minutes.
Typically, he’s aggressive. Against the Celtics, he was somewhat passive.
“One bothered me where he fakes himself,” Avery Johnson said. “ He was wide open and he was thinking a little bit too much. So, we will review it with him, and tell him in those situations, we want him to take his shot, and take it with confidence. C.J. is a really good player. He is going to be a strong performer for us this year.
[Thursday] wasn’t necessarily his best game, but then he was in there at the end when we were in some switching situations, and overall, the times he was on Jason Terry, I thought he did a hood job chasing him.”