NEW YORK, December 8, 2015 - You may not be able to teach an old dog new tricks, but sometimes, his old tricks do just fine.
On Tuesday at Barclays Center, Joe Johnson turned back the clock and came up big when the Nets needed it most, making clutch plays down the stretch and helping the Brooklyn Nets stave off a late rally by the Houston Rockets, 110-105. Johnson matched his season-high with 22 points, but 15 of those points were scored in the fourth quarter.
"Joe Johnson was outstanding in the fourth quarter and down the stretch," Nets head coach Lionel Hollins said afterward. "He carried us home."
For the most part, over the course of his 14-year career, Johnson has been there and done that. Still, at 34 years old, it felt good for the veteran to come through for his teammates.
"I thought, throughout the game, we played pretty good basketball," Johnson said. "We got off to a great start, which is always good for us, because we're pretty much a young team and confidence is key for us. We knew they were gonna make a run, they've got some great players, we withstood it and that fourth quarter down the stretch we executed offensively, made free throws and got stops."
After dropping their previous two contests to the Knicks and Warriors, the Nets entered Tuesday night desperate for a win. After firing head coach Kevin McHale earlier this season, though, the Rockets have come to epitomize dysfunction, and with a 10-11 record of their own, the desperation was mutual.
In the end, though, Johnson -- the elder statesman -- ensured that his team would prevail.
"That's what Joe does," Brook Lopez said of his teammate. "We know we can go to him time and time again in the crunch and that he's doing to deliver."
Lopez correctly pointed out, though, that the victory was more a result of all-around contributions. All five members of the starting lineup scored in double figures, with Lopez leading the way with 24 points. He also contributed eight rebounds and five blocks.
Thaddeus Young shot 10-for-13 from the field and contributed 20 points and Bojan Bogdanovic chipped in 19 points.
For these Nets, it seems to have rarely been a question about the potential or talent that Hollins' team possesses. Instead, it has seemingly been about execution and effort. On Tuesday night, neither was an issue, and to their credit, they just so happened to beat a team that most would agree has superior talent.
"No question," Lopez responded when asked if the Nets needed Tuesday night's win. "We're not really in a situation to turn away wins, so we have to come and play every night and we did tonight. We just want to be consistent."
Said Hollins: "I'm thankful for the win. They have been hard to come by and I'm just excited for the fellas as we move forward."
Moving forward, though, for this team, has become an increasingly interesting concept. Slowly but surely, with the departures of Andray Blatche, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Deron Williams, Johnson -- an older veteran -- seems out of place on a roster that has suddenly become laden with younger players. Johnson will become a free agent on July 1, 2016, and he is not expected to re-sign with the Nets.
He had struggled before Tuesday night and has turned in just 11 points per game so far this season, his lowest scoring output since becoming a full-time starter in 2003.
With more efforts like this, however, Johnson will not only prove that he still has plenty left in the tank, he may prove to still be a vital part of whatever the franchise hopes to accomplish this season. With four more games on their current homestand, the Nets will do battle with the 76ers on Thursday night before hosting the Clippers on Saturday.
For the sake of Hollins and his team's chances of escaping the cellar of the NBA's Eastern Conference, one can only hope that Johnson's turning back the clock on Tuesday night was no aberration.