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Three Pointers: Storming the Thunder

Joe Johnson shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder guard

Joe Johnson shoots over Oklahoma City Thunder guard Thabo Sefolosha. (Jan. 2, 2013) Credit: AP

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Nobody saw that coming.

Or did they?

“Bog said before the game we were going to get a win,” Deron Williams said, referring to Keith Bogans, the guy with the locker directly next to his. “So we had to get a win. That’s all that was to it.

“Simple as that.”

If only it was that easy. But the Nets’ unexpected 110-93 triumph over the Thunder Wednesday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena did wonders for their psyche. Think about it for a second.

These guys hadn’t beaten a team with a .500 or better record since Nov. 28 in Boston, one of the last benchmark victories of the Avery Johnson Era. After that horrible December in which they went 5-11 -- which included losing 10 of 13, something that cost Johnson his job last week -- they began 2013 in unfathomable fashion by taking down a team that had lost just twice in its previous 18 games at home this season.

Let’s just say it’s been a while since every single player was so giddy. 

“We needed this win, personally, especially after the outing we had in San Antonio,” Gerald Wallace said. “We needed this one just to get ourselves back on track, kind of turn this road trip around and kind of give us confidence. That San Antonio loss took a lot out of us as a team.

"So just getting this win, seeing the capability of the team that we are kind of helps us mentally and helps us go forward from here.”

And they’re already thinking forward, too.

“We’ve shown that we can be one of the top teams in this league,” said Joe Johnson, who shot lights out and pumped in a season-high 33 points, “and coming into a hostile environment, we held our own and was able to pull it out.”

Exactly why’d that happen? We examine, Three Pointers style:

--* Composure, composure, composure

Things were going according to the Nets’ usual script, appearing to follow that same disgusting routine that’s become all too commonplace. A 23-point first-half lead had dwindled down to nothing almost midway through the fourth quarter.

The Thunder were rolling. The capacity crowd of 18,203 was frothing at the mouth.

It seemed like the, ‘Here we go again’ moment. But it wasn’t. The Nets showed uncanny poise and basically mushed the Thunder like a little brother, using a 23-5 spurt to close them out.

Check out their fourth quarter stats: 31 points on 46.7 percent shooting from the floor (7-for-15) and 20-of-21 from the free throw line. They also outrebounded Oklahoma City 9-8, collected three steals and had only two turnovers.

“Man, it’s a great feeling,” Johnson said. “Our defense was where it was earlier in the year. It wasn’t necessarily our offense. We were clicking on al cylinders, but defensively, that’s where it started. We got stops, got out in transition. We ran pretty much the whole game, maybe slowed down a tad bit in that third quarter, but man, we kept our composure and when things didn’t look so bright we still were a confident group out there."

Williams said: “The way we did it against the team we did it against and on the road, to jump out to that big lead and then have it get [tied] and we just kept fighting. We didn’t let it defeat us and just give them the game. We were able to extend back in the fourth quarter and how we did it defensively, it was a really good win for us."

--* Give it up to the bench

Even though he’s not exactly playing all that great, it could’ve been a tough blow for the Nets to not really have C.J. Watson (sore right knee) available. Watson was actually active, but could only be used in an emergency role.

No matter.

Rook Tyshawn Taylor played 9:22 and although he didn’t finish with a single point or assist, the key stat is this: zero turnovers. They got a combined 26 points from Andray Blatche, Kris Humphries and Bogans.

Humphries, who could barely walk off the court after getting banged up late, played as well as he has in a while, tossing in 11 points to go along with seven boards. 

“Our bench gave us a great lift,” interim coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “Tyshawn had to play some big minutes. His minutes in the second half were obviously a little better. But in the fourth quarter, he gave us some really big minutes and we were able to get [our starters] a couple of minutes rest. We didn’t want them to play 47 minutes and Tyshawn enabled us to do that.

“I thought Andray and Hump were really, really good. All four of our bigs competed and banged. ... Everyone played really well and you’re not beating them in this building unless a lot of people play well. ... Could it have slipped away? Sure, it could have. But we found a way to win, which is a great thing.” 

--* That unconscious performance by Johnson was exactly what Billy King envisioned when he traded for him to pair him with Williams.

Johnson had that look in his eye. He wanted the ball. He was hot and his confidence was sky-high. There was even one point with 25.1 seconds left in the third quarter (he had 23 points by then) when Johnson was up on the sideline and nearly chased Carlesimo down to get his attention, all to see if he wanted him in the game at the end of the quarter for offensive purposes.

There’s clearly a good relationship blossoming between those two and Johnson made that clear to me in a convo we had yesterday. That give and take is critical between the coach and superstar, and Johnson is off to a pretty good start underneath Carlesimo.

The basket turned into an ocean for Johnson, who connected on 11 of 19 shots and went 5-for-10 from three-point range.

“When you get a couple to fall early, a couple of easy buckets then the basket just gets a little bigger,” Johnson said. “I noticed they were playing me one-on-one straight up, no double teams. So I just tried to take advantage.”

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