Way back when talk of championships surrounded the Nets, the word was that when it came to closing games Joe Johnson would likely be the top option.
After all, he had done it so many times last season.
The Nets have not had many opportunities to close out victories this season but on Monday, Johnson again helped secure a 91-86 victory over the Hawks.
Johnson scored nine of his 23 points in the fourth quarter as the Nets put together three straight wins for the second time this season. They did so on a night when Deron Williams sat out for the 12th time with a sprained left ankle.
“We leaned on him a little bit tonight with Deron out,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We went to him a lot more and he responded. He had a lot of great looks. He understands time and score and made some big shots down the stretch for us.”
“You always want to be assertive and try to take over the game and that’s what I was trying to do,” Johnson said.
Johnson snapped a streak of five straight games in single digits. He had shot 15-of-52 over his previous five games, though he started this winning streak by hitting the game-winning shot Thursday at Oklahoma City and following Brooklyn’s 13th win, he was given a new moniker by Kevin Garnett.
“We call him Joe Jesus,” Garnett said. ”He might not be there when you call him but he’s there when you need him.”
Johnson wound up shooting 10-of-22 after opening the game by missing eight of his first 12 shots. Johnson wound up turning in his most productive game since his 37-point night three weeks ago against the 76ers.
He did so on a night when he said he was focusing more on shooting and less on aiming shots to the rim.
“Shooting is an art,” Johnson said. “I think I’ve been doing a lot of aiming, just really trying to make it instead of just letting the ball go in. There in the fourth quarter that’s exactly what Jason [Terry] kept telling me to do – just shoot the ball.”
“It happens but Joe’s he’s a worker,” Anderson said. “He stayed in the gym, got his shots, shots that he normally makes.”
The game came down to the wire, with Hawks guard Jeff Teague hitting an open 3-pointer from the top of the key following a poor rotation by Mirza Teletovic to pull Atlanta to within two points, 86-84, with 93 seconds left.
It was further in doubt when Paul Millsap stole the ball as Johnson tried a crossover dribble, but he missed a layup and Alan Anderson rebounded it. Johnson made a crisp pass to Teletovic, who buried a 3-pointer from in front of the Hawks bench for an 89-84 lead.
Before the final minute, Johnson helped the Nets get some breathing room after allowing what had been a 72-67 lead entering the fourth to a 78-77 deficit with 6:36 remaining.
Johnson gave the Nets the lead for good by draining a 3-pointer over DeMarre Carroll with 6:19 remaining. Following a steal and dunk by Shaun Livingston, Johnson hit a step-back midrange jumper with 3:37 remaining and then hit another jumper for an 86-80 lead with 2:11 remaining.
Johnson’s late-game showing came after the Nets outscored the Hawks 27-15 in the third quarter.
After allowing the final 11 points of the first half and falling behind 52-46, the Nets missed their first three shots of the second half. They recovered and tied it at 52-52 with 9:19 remaining when Johnson put back a missed 3-pointer by Paul Pierce.
Then Anderson went to work, hitting a 17-footer off a feed from Johnson, and draining consecutive long 3-pointers off feeds from Pierce for a 60-52 with 7:52 left.
Teletovic (16 points, four 3-pointers) and Anderson (14 points) combined for 19 of Brooklyn’s 26 points in the third quarter. Conversely, the Nets allowed a season-low 15 points in a quarter they had been outscored by 108 points in coming into the game.
That was part of a second-half that saw the Nets allow a season-low 34 points while holding Atlanta to 35.5 percent shooting (11-of-31) while converting 10 turnovers into 17 points.
Follow Nets beat writer Larry Fleisher on Twitter @LarryFleisher.