In terms of being a star in the NBA, Joe Johnson is no longer that. He’s pretty much just an Average Joe.
But the Nets still count on him to take — and make — big shots when games are on the line. He made a big one Saturday night in the Nets’ 105-103 loss to the Pelicans in New Orleans. It was the one he didn’t make that the Nets were still talking about when it was over.
Johnson’s straight-on, more-than-halfcourt heave at the buzzer hit the back rim and bounced away to seal the Nets’ defeat. Had it gone in, they would have escaped The Big Easy with one of their best wins of the season.
“I watched it the whole way,” said Brook Lopez, who led the Nets with 33 points. “I obviously haven’t reviewed it, but it was right on the back rim. I thought it was good.”
Seconds earlier, Johnson hit a tying three-pointer. He had 10 points on the night, including seven in the fourth quarter, when the Nets were involved in a nip-and-tuck battle with the Pelicans.
New Orleans took the final lead on Jrue Holiday’s fallaway jumper with 1.3 seconds left. The Nets (12-36) were left with attaboys from interim coach Tony Brown for a valiant effort but not the victory they wanted.
“Just how it’s been, man,” Johnson said. “Winning in this league is hard and guys are professional — they’re going to make tough shots. Holiday made some big, big shots down the stretch. But I thought we rode our two horses, [Thaddeus Young] and Brook, especially down the stretch.”
Used to be that Johnson was one of the horses. Take 2006-07, when he averaged 25 points for Atlanta. This year, at age 34 and in the final year of his cap-choking $120-million contract, the 15-year veteran is averaging 11.5 points.
“I count on Joe every night,” Brown said. “I know he’s going to do the right thing. His shot’s going in or not . . . He’s more effective when the ball’s in his hand. I’m going to try to get it to him as much as I can. But I have no problem with Joe Johnson.”
Johnson doesn’t always take the big shots anymore. But he did Saturday night. For an eyeblink, it looked as if it would go in.
Brown thought it would.
Did Johnson think so?
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “I mean, it was on line when it left my hand, but I was like, ‘No way.’ ”