PHOENIX — Joe Johnson’s game-winning layup as the overtime buzzer sounded gave the Nets their first road win of the season, a hard-fought 100-98 victory that came without the team’s starting point guard, Deron Williams.
Williams was lost early in the first quarter to a sprained left ankle, but the play of Shaun Livingston, along with Johnson’s big-time shots late were enough to overcome a Suns team that continues to battle to the end, no matter the circumstances.
It was another wild one for the Suns, who for the second time this season gave up a large lead by being on the wrong end of a huge run, only to battle back and eventually take control. Against the Nuggets a week ago, Phoenix was able to stabilize and pull away for the win. Some poor shot selection late, however, along with a mad scramble at the finish saw the Suns drop a heartbreaker for the second straight contest.
Johnson’s heroics were a big reason the Nets were able to get just their third win of the season in eight tries. He was 3-of-14 from the field through three quarters, but has a history of making shots when they matter most. Johnson hit three of his last five, and the last two were the ones that first kept Brooklyn’s hopes alive, and then sent a wave of euphoria through the hearts of his teammates.
Johnson hit a runner with 29 seconds left in regulation that tied the game at 92, and then came the game-winner on a transition play where the Suns didn’t seem to have a chance.
Channing Frye missed a three with just over seven seconds remaining, and after the ball was tipped a couple of times, Kevin Garnett tapped it out to Johnson at the elbow. Goran Dragic tried for the steal, but once the ball landed in Johnson’s hands, there were no defenders in place and he was off to the races.
“I knew once KG tipped it out to me I looked up and there was four and a half, maybe five seconds left,” Johnson said afterward. “I knew I didn’t have to take a rushed shot. I just took my time coming up the court, and was able to get in the paint there and make a play.”
P.J. Tucker ran back to try and defend, as did Frye, who ran straight to the rim. Johnson hesitated near the three-point line just enough to make Tucker do the same, and he was able to shake the defender closing on the perimeter before getting the game-winner to go over Frye inside.
“I hesitated to make them think I was going to pull up,” Johnson said. “The way I was shooting I had no intention of pulling up.”
It was an important win for the Nets, if only to try to gain some footing in this young season that hasn’t exactly gone as expected. The loss of Williams will hurt depending how much time (if any) he ultimately misses, but the Nets rode Brook Lopez by feeding him plenty in the second half, and that’s a formula they can use to have success against most teams. Livingston’s speed and playmaking were both fantastic in this one, and if he can deliver that while Williams is out, the team can use this game as a building block moving forward.
“You know, it could be a domino effect,” Johnson said of the way his team won. “Hopefully it will be, but this was a tough one — probably because it was our first win on the road. We just showed a lot of resiliency. Deron went down, and Shaun stepped up and played big, man. And that’s what we needed.”
Johnson’s teammates understandably stormed the floor after his game-winning bucket, wanting to enjoy one of the few positive moments of this trying early season. But after playing almost 45 minutes and with a tough game against the Clippers on the horizon the very next night, Johnson had no interest in the extended celebration.
“I couldn’t even celebrate I was so tired,” Johnson said. “I was ready to get out of there. Those guys are trying to celebrate, I’m ready to go to the locker room and get a shower.”