When Joe Johnson openly criticized the Nets' play a few weeks back, visibly frustrated with what he felt was selfish play by some, it raised more than a few eyebrows.
As he looks in the rearview mirror while analyzing his team's early season peaks and valleys, coach Lionel Hollins believes that moment may have aided in galvanizing the Nets. Since their triple-overtime loss to the Bucks, which punctuated a five-game losing streak and came 10 days after Johnson's unusual roast, the Nets (8-9) have won four of their last six games, a upward trend they will look to continue against the Hawks (11-6) on Friday night.
"My thing is if you've got an issue with your teammates," Hollins said Thursday on WFAN's "Joe & Evan Show", "go talk to the people you have issues with because that's the manly thing to do, and work it out rather than go on publicly and obscurely making a comment. But he did and we talked about it. He understands. He feels bad about it, and we have overcome that and we have come back.
"It's all part of the growth process and the maturing process. I didn't want to go through it, but going through that has helped us as we've moved forward to be a closer team, and to be a more transparent team with each other, and to understand what it means to be a family, what it means to have conflict and to overcome it because we are committed to each other and we are committed to winning."
Perhaps no play in Hollins' estimation better reflects that than the scramble in the waning seconds of Wednesday's 95-93 overtime victory over the Spurs. Deron Williams initially tried to corral the ball following Manu Ginobili's missed three-pointer with 4.9 seconds left, and Johnson and Brook Lopez each dove onto the floor attempting to rein it in before Cory Joseph could. That play led to a jump ball between Lopez and Joseph, which Lopez easily won.
"Our mental spirits are really turning and changing. We've become a closer team," Hollins said. "You watched the game against the Knicks, guys were on the floor. You watched the game last night, at the end of the game for the biggest play of the game, you had Brook, you had Joe and you had Deron all on the floor going for a loose ball. And when you start getting that attitude, it's contagious and you can build up off of it.
"I would have been happy and proud of them if we had lost because I could see the spirit changing and I see us becoming a more together team, not a better team, but a more together team. So, to get the win definitely escalates our ability to believe in each other."Particularly when they see the type of intensity and determination Lopez is showing of late. In his last two games, he averaged 19.5 points, 12 rebounds and 2.5 blocks. Hollins has been open in critiquing Lopez's rough play at times and has kept him on the bench for lengthy stretches in the fourth quarter.
But he now believes his 7-footer's "mind is free, his spirit is free," leading to this recent surge.
"I think I'm responding to Brook more than he's responding to me," Hollins said. "I get Brook, I see who he is. And as a coach you, have to make adjustments and you have to be flexible in your thought process. I give Brook all the credit for being mentally tough and hanging in there, as I have been on him. But I also understand who he is and I have to let Brook be Brook."
Notes & quotes: A rebound with 1.2 seconds remaining in the third quarter of Wednesday's win was incorrectly awarded to Jarrett Jack instead of Lopez. The change was made official Thursday, meaning Lopez finished with 16 rebounds.