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Johnson Saves the Day as Lopez Steps Aside

by Kenny Ducey
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Flickr | june10459

Benching Brook Lopez in 4th Nearly Costs Carlesimo

Joe Johnson hit a 15-footer from the free-throw as time expired, and the Nets squeaked by the visiting Bucks Tuesday in OT 113-111. He's now 8-for-9 shooting in the final 30 seconds of one-possession games. His 8th attempt in those same scenarios? A trifecta with 1.3 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to an extra session. He showed the 17,334 faithful fans on-hand at the Barclays Center just how clutch he was.

His backcourt counterpart Deron Williams was unspectacular in the 4th quarter, playing all 12 minutes to just 2 points and 2 assists. Johnson, meanwhile, showed why he’s this team’s leader down the stretch. He’s averaging 5 of his 17 points per game in the 4th, so you can say he enjoys playing in crunch-time. When asked about the game-winning shot, specifically, Johnson said “it’s an unbelievable feeling. Regardless of the situation, whether it’s regular season or playoffs, it’s always a great feeling.” He might not be scoring like a player with a max contract, but he’s certainly proving he’s worth a lot to the Nets.

The win snapped a streak of 13-straight losses to the Bucks, and improved the Nets to 5-0 in overtime games this season. It also moved PJ Carlesimo to an impressive 18-8 in his new role with the Nets, although he almost paid the price for a decision he made late in the game.

It was just February 1st when Brooklyn’s interim head coach benched Brook Lopez in the 4th quarter in favor of the hot Andray Blatche, and the decision proved to be a good one, leading to a momentum-building 93-89 win over the Bulls.  The same swap took place Tuesday night, only some questionable officiating and timely play from Milwaukee PG Brandon Jennings extended the game past the fourth quarter. This left Carlesimo with a tough call on whom to go to in overtime, and eventually he chose his All-Star, Lopez. “I thought Blatche played several minutes in a row, which was a major concern for me and we had a fresher Brook,” Carlesimo reasoned.

He thought wrong. Lopez looked the part of Calvin Cambridge in “Like Mike” when he was forced to play without his magic shoes, going 0-4 from the floor and missing layups badly. The Nets’ starting center was stiff, and it was most likely because he spent the 33-minute 4th quarter cheering on his team from the bench. Said Carlesimo, “I did want to go with Brook but Blatche continued to make plays.” Blatche scored 10 of his 14 points in the final quarter of regulation, one only he and Deron Williams played the duration of.

Whether or not this is a decision Coach Carlesimo will continue to make remains to be seen. While Blatche was playing extremely well, Lopez had scored 19 on 6-of-13 shooting, and as he later admitted, checked-out mentally when pulled from the game. It's a danger Carlesimo will have to consider in the future when yanking his center, as neither Williams or Johnson have shown the ability to carry the team for a whole game. Lopez, on the other hand, has. That's why it was so curious to see him sit crucial minutes late. Nonetheless, Blatche used his 18 minutes effectively, and made a case for more playing time. It's not going to be easy to come by, though, with so many capable bigmen on the roster.

Along those lines, Kris Humphries, saw 23 minutes of action and managed 8 points and 7 rebounds, although it didn’t always appear he was playing as well as his numbers indicate. Still, a performance like that may persuade a team like the Hawks to consider a trade for him, as has been rumored. With the trade deadline looming February 21st, it’s possible both Humphries and Marshon Brooks could be packing their bags and heading out of town.

While you’ve probably heard that before, it remains a real possibility as Brooklyn has failed to utilize Brooks and Humphries enough. Though with a three-game winning streak going now, maybe the front office will re-consider bringing in a new face.