PHOENIX — Oh, Joe.
The Brooklyn Nets were tied in overtime with the Phoenix Suns having possession and working with a game clock just long of 24 seconds. Joe Johnson took a long rebound off a Channing Frye miss the length of the court for a floater that left his hands just as the overtime ran dry. Nothing but net. Game over, 100-98, Nets win.
It wasn’t the first big shot of the night for the former Suns guard.
P.J. Tucker hit perhaps what would have been the biggest shot of his life in regulation. After Eric Bledsoe had missed two wide open three-pointers and after Goran Dragic knew he could will his way into the paint to find his teammates for open jumpers, he drove left and, running out of space under the hoop, flung the ball to Tucker on the right corner. Swish. The Suns led 92-90 with 40 seconds left in the fourth.
That’s when Johnson hit his first of two floaters in the lane on Brooklyn’s next possession. Dragic missed a tough floater with the clock seemingly running out. And then, Tucker nearly made the mistake of his career. He seemingly put a purposeful foul on Paul Pierce as the clock was reaching 0.00 and the game tied at 92. Somehow, the officials ruled time had run out. On to overtime.
There Dragic performed masterfully. Trailing by two points, the Suns ran off a miss and several offensive tip-attempts by the Nets. Dragic pushed the break and recorded a hockey assist through Bledsoe that ended on an alley-oop to Tucker, but after a Dragic steal and a failed scoring opportunity by Channing Frye on the right three-point wing, Johnson hit his second dagger of the day.
The end result was more heartbreak for the Suns just days after Portland stole a game from their fingertips in the final seconds.
Age was the Nets’ biggest worry if you went by the pregame questioning. Phoenix no doubt wanted to run and Brooklyn knew it had to play with urgency. It didn’t happen out of the gates.
In the first half, the Suns piled up 18 fastbreak points and behind Goran Dragic went at a pace arguably the most torrid of the season – maybe it was just the Nets looking sluggish. The tides changed toward the end of the first half.
The Nets began a 20-0 run in the final minute of the second quarter and blitzed Phoenix to take a 62-50 lead midway through the third quarter. Hornacek, who started Markieff Morris in place of Frye in the second half, substituted Frye, Marcus Morris and Gerald Green for Eric Bledsoe, Markieff Morris and Miles Plumlee.
Phoenix was back enough to force overtime but not enough to hold out for a second.
How’s the game answer Dave Dulberg’s pregame questions?
How will Plumlee fare better against the more talented Lopez brother?
If we’re going by the first half, Plumlee dealt very well with the bigger Brook Lopez. In general, the Suns that gave up at least three inches at each of the backcourt positions and quite of bit of bulk in the paint did a very good job of pushing the Nets out of the paint. Whether it was Deron Williams of Joe Johnson posting up, Eric Bledsoe and Goran Dragic held their own.
Back to Lopez. The Nets center missed his four attempts in the first half and had only two points, two rebounds and three turnovers, all while Plumlee collected four boards and had two dunks. But Lopez exploded for 11 points in eight third-quarter minutes.
The onslaught continued as Lopez hit 20-foot banks and 15-foot hook over a helpless Plumlee. He ended Friday evening with 27 points.
Will ‘The Dragon’ be around for crunch time?
Before the game, Hornacek said the Suns’ heartbreaking loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday wasn’t due to missed tips and a blown opportunity in the final seconds. It was how Phoenix reacted once Dragic went down with his facial injury. Suddenly, Portland turned the tables and had all the momentum – and the home crowd with it.
Against the Nets, Dragic finished with 19 points and 10 assists.
Dragic was finally able to play crucial minutes in the second half. He was part of the surge after the first wave of substitutions. As Bledsoe killed the offensive momentum and anything former Suns coach Mike D’Antoni would have called the inertia of the ball, Dragic steadied the ship as the Suns used a three-point barrage via Marcus Morris, Frye and Green to get back into the game.
After helping the Suns to overtime, Dragic got a layup and was fouled — he missed the free throw — with 1:29 left that brought a four-point deficit to two.
Which veteran four finally gets ignited?
It wasn’t the guy you might think. Kevin Garnett’s legs weren’t enough to finish around the rim with Plumlee and company lurking around, and Deron Williams left less than five minutes into the game with a sprained ankle. The Brooklyn point guard didn’t return.
Shaun Livingston took Williams’ place and caused problems, especially for Bledsoe. The rangy point guard continually got to the basket off the dribble and off pick-and-roll action. He scored 12 points to help Brooklyn find itself with a 50-46 halftime deficit despite trailing by 14 at one point. With the starters to begin the third, he had four quick assists as the Nets attacking a sleepy looking Phoenix defense that struggled to rotate to cover Lopez rolling to the hoop. Livingston ended the night with 18 points and six assists.
Paul Pierce also looked competent as a starter. He finished with 14, and despite Tucker tailing him for most of the night played like the Pierce that once donned green.