by Jeff Case
The NBA season kicked into the post-All-Star break section of its schedule Tuesday night, and if you were seeking some good drama to get things started, it was found at no other place than the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Before the Nets game against Milwaukee, ESPNNewYork.com’s Ian O’Connor wrote a pretty scathing column on Nets point guard Deron Williams and his lack of All-Star play this season. Then, the Nets tipped off the second half of their season by hosting the Bucks, a team with playoff hopes and designs on climbing into the No. 4 seed the Nets hold in the East.
A back-and-forth game ensued and the Bucks eventually built a five-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Nets charged back and it was their other former All-Star guard, Joe Johnson, who took over.
With the Bucks up 105-102, Johnson nailed a 3-pointer with 1.3 seconds left that had the clutch-ness of Robert Horry written all over it. Then, he did the deed again in OT with another clutch jumper, but this time, made sure it was a legit Horry Scale contender and put Milwaukee away for good.
As an added note, this will be Johnson’s second time on the Horry Scale this season (ICYMI, he Horry’d the Pistons back in mid-December).
For those that are new around these parts, the Horry scale examines a game-winning buzzer-beater (GWBB) in the categories of difficulty, game situation (was the team tied or behind at the time?), importance (playoff game or garden-variety Kings-Pistons game?) and celebration (is it over the top or too chill? Just the right panache or needs more sauce?). Then we give it an overall grade on a scale of 1-5 Robert Horrys, the patron saint of last-second daggers.(IMPORTANT NOTE: While we loved Johnson’s game-tying 3-pointer as much as the rest of you [non-Bucks fans] did, we can’t put that one on the scale because it doesn’t qualify. We’ll mention it below and it might factor into the overall grade, too.)
How does Johnson’s game-winning shot Monday night stack up? Let’s dive in …
Much like the last Horry Scale shot we had around here, we’ve got a superstar going up against a role player, albeit a good defensive one in the Bucks’ Luc Mbah a Moute. Mbah a Moute needs a hug after this game as he not only got victimized on the game-winner, but on the game-tying shot, too. Of the two shots, we’d have to say the game-tying shot in the fourth quarter was more pressure-packed, given what happens if Johnson misses (a loss).
The shot Johnson takes (and makes) to win the game is one right in his wheelhouse. Hawks fans are well aware of Johnson’s ability to go one-on-one (just go Google “iso Joe Atlanta Hawks” and start reading), so Nets coach P.J. Carlesimo, one of the NBA’s better X-and-O guys, draws up two great plays for Johnson. The game-tying shot, he has Johnson serve as the inbounder, then works him off a high screen from Gerald Wallace and Andray Blatche and he drains the shot.
For the game-winner, Carlesimo has Keith Bogans as the inbounder and works Johnson off a pick from Brook Lopez. Johnson catches it near midcourt with Mbah a Moute playing great defense … until Johnson’s third dribble.
At that point, Mbah a Moute goes for a steal and Johnson has space to make it to the free-throw line extended. Despite a nice recovery from Mbah a Moute, Johnson pulls up, fades a little and the ballgame is over.
Reverse the court in your mind and watch this Johnson game-winner against the Bobcats in 2010.
Tell me you don’t see nearly the exact same play as last night: guard (Mike Bibby here) inbounds, Johnson works off a screen for a catch near the 3-point line, a couple of dribbles … and … ballgame.
Again, we feel for Mbah a Moute here. Much like Tayshaun Prince in Johnson’s last Horry shot, Mbah a Moute is a solid-if-not-elite perimeter defender who loses a step on the Nets’ star at the wrong time.
Game Situation No. 1 (but it’s not a Horry moment, mind you): Nets down three with 6.7 seconds left. Had the Bucks held on, it would have moved them closer to the Celtics for No. 7 in the East (especially since Boston lost in Denver Tuesday night). A loss, luckily for Milwaukee, kept it right where it is in the playoff chase thanks to the fact the Sixers have a ways to go to get into the conversation for No. 8. For the Nets, a loss (combined with the Bulls’ win in New Orleans) would have coughed up the No. 4 seed and given the New York media even more to over-analyze about this squad.
Game Situation No. 2 (this one counts, folks): A big 3-pointer from Bogans with 1:03 left tied this one up and the teams exchanged misses (the Bucks’ one by Larry Sanders and the Nets’ by Williams, courtesy of a Sanders block). Brandon Jennings has a chance to be the hero, but he misses a jump shot, setting up Johnson’s hero moment.
Playoff agendas — be it staying in the East’s top four (the Nets) or just staying in the race (the Bucks) — were at stake here. Brooklyn slightly strengthened its case and, despite a crushing loss at the horn, Milwaukee didn’t do that much damage to its.
If the Nets can somehow go on a magical playoff run this season and win The Finals, we need to have a camera on Johnson once the title celebration begins. Although he’s known as “Joe Cool” to some, Johnson shows he’s not afraid to let his emotions show after draining the big shots against the Nets. The celebration has statistical backing, though, as our own John Schuhmann points out: in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, with a score differential (either way) of five points or less this season, Johnson is shooting 90 percent.
4 Horrys. Although the 3-pointer in regulation didn’t count as an Horry Scale shot, being clutch twice down the stretch definitely factors into the grading around here (just as LaMarcus Aldridge). Johnson did what Aldridge did — more or less — to garner four stars: deliver a big shot to tie the game (although Johnson’s 3-pointer forced OT and Aldridge’s didn’t) and then finish the job with an Horry Scale shot. Johnson got to his sweet spot on the court, got some space from the defender and did what superstars are supposed to do: win games.
What sayeth you?