Just when it looked like Joe Johnson was going to hit his stride in 2016, he took a major step back on Wednesday night at Barclays Center against the Raptors.
Johnson opened the year with 20 points on Saturday in Boston and 21 on Monday night against the Celtics in Brooklyn.
Instead of signs of progress for Johnson, it’s more of an indictment of the Boston defense that he let him go for 20+ against them in both ends of the home-and-home.
It is amazing to think that 35 games into the season, Johnson has only has four games of 20 or more points, with the other two coming against the Lakers on November 6 and the Rockets on December 8.
For the season, Johnson is averaging 11.1 points per game, far less than his career average of 17.1 PPG.
On Wednesday, the Raptors held Johnson to a putrid 2-for-8 from the field, including 1-2 from behind the arc, for just five points. the Raptors defended him so well that he never got to the free throw line.
Johnson this year has played differently than he ever has in Brooklyn. For some reason, he is dribbling more to get his opportunities in the lane than sitting in the corner waiting for the ball to take a three and get going from behind the arc.
Johnson should take way more than two three-point attempts! He should be their main source of offense from behind the arc. Instead, the far-less-gifted Bojan Bogdanovic, Shane Larkin, and Wayne Ellington took four three-point attempts each, with Bogdanovic making two and the Larkin and Ellington one each.
Aside from restoring Johnson to his old role in the offense, camped out in the corner, there is not much Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins can do.
Without Jack, this team is very limited talent-wise and the book on how to win against them is easy: Give Brook Lopez his 20 points and shut down everyone else.
The Raptors beat the Nets 91-74, and Lopez led the way with 24 points on 11-21 shooting, with 13 rebounds for a double-double.
Bogdanovic had 12 points (4-10 FG, 2-4 on threes), Thaddeus Young 11 points on a miserable 5-for-13 from the field, Larkin had nine on 4-for-8 shooting, Johnson and Ellington with five points each, Wilie Reed and Andrea Bargnani had three each, and Donald Sloan had two.
Lopez said of the loss, “I think it was pretty similar to our last game with the Celtics. Except instead of the first quarter, it was pretty much the last three minutes of the second quarter (16-2 Raptors run). We kind of let them have their way. They went on that run, and we battled, we kept it right around 12 to 15. The closest we got was 10, or something like that (79-69 Toronto with 5:07 left in fourth). We just couldn’t really get into striking distance.”
Lopez said of what other teams are doing defensively to contain the Nets, “Obviously, everyone is scouting everyone. I think we got to do a better job of just – when they kind of work us out of our sets, playing off counters, and getting to just playing basketball, and playing with each other, and counter the flow.”
Nets Head Coach Lionel Hollins said of the loss, “Before the game, I talked to you about (Toronto’s) two perimeter people, and what it came down to was that their quickness dominated. We couldn’t move the ball from side to side. They took away a lot of our ball movement. We had spurts where we were able to do it, but we weren’t able to do it consistently. We missed a lot of easy shots and got us in a hole and then we battled back. In the second half, they just kept grinding us out. That’s what they do. They were methodical offensively and we shoot, once again, 39 percent from the field. We didn’t make our free throws tonight – we shot 58 percent – and then we had 19 turnovers on top of it. So it was a disappointing game.”
Hollins said of taking anything positive from the loss, “Well, if we win and we lose – when you win, it’s positive; when you lose, it’s negative. I mean, I’m not trying to take anything out of the game, I’m just trying to get wins.”
Hollins said in response to a question about the point guard play in the second game without Jarrett Jack, “I’ll let you be the determination of whether they are underachieving or not. It’s a group thing. We have to play better as a team offensively and defensively. We have to rebound better. We get beat on the glass. We have to turn the ball over less. If you look at the turnovers, it wasn’t really the point guards turning the ball over. So you be the judge of that and make that determination when you write your story. I’ll just tell you that we didn’t play well as a group. We need to play better. We had some decent ball movement at times, but for the most part, the other team took away the ball movement as well. You have to be able to put the ball on the floor and penetrate and go by people to create help, to keep the ball movement up, and their quickness didn’t allow that.”