Schott: Nets’ Joe Cool Turning Into Joe Cold

(Joe Johnson against Miami on Wednesday night – @BrooklynNets)

When the Nets brought in Joe Johnson as they were about to embark on their move to Brooklyn, they were getting arguably the most clutch player in the NBA.

Johnson lived up to such nicknames as Joe Jesus the first couple of years in Brooklyn, with numerous game winners. The most famous ones were on December 14, 2012, which Ian Eagle called “It was real and it was spectacular” in ode to Jerry Seinfeld, who was at the Barclays Center that night.

The following season, with the Nets floundering at 10-21, he hjt a game-winner in Oklahoma City on January 2, 2014 that propelled the Nets to a big second-half run to the playoffs.

Johnson averaged 16.3 points-per-game in 2012-13, and 15.8 the following year. A lot of his points came in the fourth quarter, to the point it was expected.

Last season, it was obvious that he was not as quick and had lost a lot of explosiveness on his three-point shot, shooting just 36 percent from behind the arc.

This season, the 34-year old Johnson has been one of the Nets’ biggest disappointments, just as they need him to step up more than ever. With the only other real scoring options Brook Lopez, Thaddeus Young, and Jarrett Jack, if Johnson were more like his old self, the Nets might have pulled out a few of the numerous games that have gone to the final minute.

Johnson is averaging just 11.2 points per game this season, a far cry form his career average of 17.1 PPG.

Incredibly, he has two game out of the Nets’ 25 that he has scored 20 or more points. He scored 22 against the Lakers on November 6 and 22 again on December 8 against Houston.

After the Houston game, he scored just seven points on 3-for-9 shooting, 1-4 on threes, against the pitiful Sixers last Thursday. He then put up a respectable 15 points (6-14 FG, 2-6 on threes) in a loss to the Clippers on Saturday, and then just six points (2-8 shooting, 2-4 threes) in a blowout loss to the Magic on Monday night.

On Wednesday night against Miami, Johnson was held to just five points on 2-for-9 from the field, and made his lone three-point attempt, with four assists and two rebounds.

The Nets’ offense came from Brook Lopez, with 25 points on 12-16 shooting, and Jarrett Jack, 22 points and 10 rebounds, in the 104-98 loss to the Heat.

The game came down to the final minutes, with Miami up just one point, 87-86, with 7:31 remaining. When Miami brought Dwyane Wade, Hassan Whiteside, and Goran Dragic back in the game around that time, they went on an 11-2 run to make it a 10-point game.

The Nets would not quit, and pulled back to within three, at 101-98, with a minute left, but Wade hit a floating jumper over Bojan Bogdanovic to make it 103-98 with 43.8 seconds left and put it away.

Why Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins did not put Johnson, who is still a top-notch defender, on fellow longtime NBA veteran Wade is a mystery. Bogdanovic was completely out of his league guarding Wade, who shot an incredible 13-for-17 from the field, and made his one three-point attempt, with five rebounds and two assists.

Hollins said of what more they could have done to defend Wade once he heated up, “Well, you could decide to go double him and hopefully he passes it, but even when he did that, Winslow hit a three, the other kid (Goran) Dragic hit a three – earlier before he got to the end – and that puts a little bit of caution in trying to go down there and just double-team and taking the ball out. He’s a great player.”

Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said of Wade, “He had a real pep to his step. This is what he’s built his career on. To be able to attack, to read defenses, to be able to make shots. Incredible touch. He had an array – he had the full pie chart going tonight. Pull ups, post ups, pick-and-roll attacks all the way to the rim. He even hit a three in the first half at the end of the clock. He takes things very seriously.”

Wade said of still having big nights like this at 33 years old (he turns 34 in January), “I understand that the game is different for me. I understand that I am playing 30 minutes a game. I understand that this team doesn’t need it every night. But I am sure that I have a high usage rate.I am getting opportunities. Me, personally, I want to shoot better and I want to be a little bit more consistent. And the nights that the ball is not going in, luckily I can pass the ball, luckily I can rebound the ball and help my team in other ways.”

To show how diminished Johnson’s role in the offense is, he took just two shot attempts in the fourth quarter. This was a player who put up at least ten points in the fourth a few years ago and came alive down the stretch. By comparison, Thaddeus Young took five shots, making just one and committed a costly turnover as the Miami defense was all over him.

Johnson said of difficulties in the fourth, “We couldn’t get stops, we had a few turnovers down the stretch and not-so-great looks offensively, but yeah, defensively, if you can’t get stops, it’s hard to win.”

Johnson said of executing end-of-game situations, “I think we know what needs to be done. It’s coming down the stretch we have a tendency to second-guess ourselves. You know, rather than taking the shots that we’ve been taking throughout the whole game, it’s like in the fourth quarter when we get those looks, we hesitate. I don’t know why.”

On if he wanted to see Lopez with the ball more, Johnson said, “Yeah, I mean, it’s designed for us to play through (him), but I don’t know. I really don’t know what happened, who was shooting, honestly.”

Hollins said of how important it was to get Lopez on track in this one, “It was huge for him confidence-wise to come out and play well. We need him to continue to play well offensively, but I thought he did some other stuff as well, but scoring-wise he did real good.”

Hollins said of the loss, which dropped the Nets to 7-18, “I thought we played extremely well. They went small and hurt us a little bit, with (Chris) Bosh at five, and (Luol) Deng at four, and (Justise) Winslow at three, and D-Wade at point guard. We had trouble matching up with that particular lineup, but we battled, we fought, we were right there, and then in the fourth quarter, D-Wade made some big shots for them, and that was the ballgame. We only turned the ball over six times, which was good, but we got outrebounded even though they played smaller. We still got outrebounded, and we had opportunities and just didn’t get it.”



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