The first few months of Joe Johnson's Nets tenure have not exactly been a smashing success.
They haven't been a crashing failure, either, but a just sort of floating around the middle run for a player who was touted as something much more when he came over from Atlanta. His big salary and status as Atlanta's best player made it seem that the Nets were getting a game-changer and, simply put, Johnson hasn't been that.
He was on Monday at the Garden, though. After the Nets blew a halftime lead and entered the fourth quarter with the Knicks in the lead, Johnson went off and carried his team to the win.
With the score tied in the early part of the quarter, Johnson scored eight straight points for Brooklyn to put them up six with 5:37 to play. The Nets would go the next five minutes without a basket as the Knicks stopped bricking things just long enough to take an 84-83 lead in the final minute.
Re-enter Johnson. At the end of a long possession, Johnson took advantage of a switch that put J.R. Smith on him instead of Iman Shumpert and stepped back to hit a 15-footer that turned out to be the winning basket in an 88-85 Nets win.
It's a big win for Brooklyn, who now sit just a game behind the Knicks and have put up wins in two of their first three games of a long stretch against better opposition than they were facing for most of December and January. The Nets have won 11 of 13 and the Knicks are 7-9 in their last 16, trends that bode well for the Nets as the second half of the season unfurls itself.
Best of all for the Nets is the way they took this victory. Watching Johnson dominate the Knicks in the fourth quarter on Monday was watching them come up with an answer to one of the big flaws we've seen from the team to this point in the season.
The Nets have plenty of talented players, but it hasn't been clear who they are going to turn to when they absolutely, positively need baskets in the crucial moments of close games. Deron Williams is too erratic from long range to be the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of the shot clock and Brook Lopez is going to have different outlooks based on what defenders are in his way.
Johnson has neither of those concerns, which is a big reason why the Nets traded for him in the first place. He's had buzzer beaters already this season, but he had never had a quarter like that in a game of great import since coming to Brooklyn.
You can check that off the list. Johnson's truly arrived now and the Nets are all the better for it.