C.J. Watson’s nickname is the “Quiet Storm,” but his performance was hardly silent for the Nets.
Neither was Joe Johnson’s and when the Nets needed big plays down the stretch, they got them.
Watson scored a season-high 23 points and Johnson had 26 points and nine assists as the Nets held off a fourth-quarter charge by the Nuggets in last night’s 119-108 victory.
“C.J. was unbelievable,” Nets interim head coach P.J. Carlesimo said. “He played so well. He hit so many big shots.”
Watson came into the game 2-of-20 from the field over his last four games, a stretch that included a 0-of-7 night starting for injured point guard Deron Williams in Monday’s overtime win at Indiana. He was benched in that game as Tyshawn Taylor got a career-high 35 minutes in the game. But Wednesday night belonged to Watson.
“Well when you have one of your key guys out, I think it motivates guys to really step up and play a little harder [and] guys that really haven’t played as much tend to come in and play big minutes and be successful,” Johnson said.
His struggles ended early as he had 10 points by halftime and the Nets had a 62-57 lead. After shooting 4-of-6 in the first half, Watson hit his new season high of 19 points when he made an open 3-pointer in front of Brooklyn’s bench with 3:58 remaining after taking a pass from Johnson.
Watson’s fourth 3-pointer put the Nets ahead 86-66. On their next possession, Watson found Johnson for a 3-pointer that gave the Nets their second 20-point lead.
“I think we were just making open shots,” Watson said in his on-court interview with the YES Network. “Joe was getting doubled for the most part. We were swinging the ball and knocking down 3-point shots tonight.”
The performance by Watson was part of a 24-9 run to start the quarter and also part of a period that saw the Nets outscore Denver 33-24 while shooting 65.7 percent (11-of-17).
Watson and Johnson were a combined 18-of-31 from the field. The backcourt duo also went a combined 10-of-16 from 3-point range and combined for 15 assists.
Watson had his highest-scoring game since a 33-point game on Nov. 26, 2010 at Denver while playing for Chicago. He also set a career-high with five 3-pointers and reached double figures for the first time since Jan. 23 at Minnesota and eighth time this season.
“His minutes have gone down but he was looking for his shot and shooting aggressively, which is great” Carlesimo said. “He also did a good job executing pick-and-rolls and getting Joe the ball.”
Watson and Johnson show were not the only potent duo for the Nets, who shot 54.7 percent and had a season high in points. Brook Lopez had 23 points and eight rebounds while reserve Kris Humphries added 14 points as the Nets turned in a second straight quality win after Sunday’s embarrassing 29-point second half against San Antonio.
“I’m really, really proud,” Carlesimo said. “When we left here Sunday night, we weren’t feeling too good coming off a pretty poor half where the Spurs just dominated us.”
Unlike the Spurs on Sunday night, the Nets didn’t quite finish off the Nuggets until the the midway point of the fourth quarter. Denver was within 104-98 on JaVale McGree’s put-back dunk with 7:19 remaining, but did not get any closer, partially due to Watson, who scored six points in the fourth.
After McGee’s dunk, Watson hit a foul shot, gained possession after Lopez won a jump ball from Ty Lawson and hit a high-arching floater through traffic with 5:48 remaining. After picking up his fifth foul, rookie Tyshawn Taylor replaced him and hit an open 3-pointer from the left side opposite the Denver bench for a 110-98 edge with 5:05 to play.
“We know teams are going to make a run on us, which they did tonight,” Johnson said. “But we got back in the ballgame and at the same time, we kept our composure, ran our offense and got to the free-throw line when we needed to. We made big plays.”
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher for news and updates throughout the games.