Joe Johnson No-Shows as Nets Drop Game 7 to Bulls

Moke Hamilton , NBA Analyst

NEW YORK — With 56 seconds remaining in Game 7 of their first round matchup against the Bulls, the Nets trailed, 95-90. Joakim Noah, as he had done a few times before this point, attempted to take Brook Lopez off the dribble and score a running layup over him.

ny_g_joe-johnson_mb_400But unlike his earlier attempts at the rim, Noah put too much oomph on this one. It missed, Reggie Evans secured the rebound, and 17 seconds later, Joe Johnson held the final gasp of all 17,732 in attendance in his sure-shot hands.

To this point, Johnson has turned in a tumultuous game, shooting just 2-for-12 from the field.

And with 39 seconds remaining and the clock ticking away on the Nets inaugural season, Johnson rose and fired a 23-footer that could have breathed just a little more life into his club.

But instead, a collective and exasperated gasp followed. Johnson missed his third 3-pointer of the quarter en route to finishing up the game just 1-for-9 from beyond the arc.

By the end of the night, Johnson had turned in his worst performance of these playoffs.

2-for-14 from the field. Six points, three rebounds, two assists.

And there, was your ballgame, the Nets would go on to lose, 99-93.

Johnson picked the wrong time to turn in his worst game of the series, and now, the Nets season is over. Entering play on Saturday, Johnson was averaging 16.3 points per game on 46 percent shooting from the field, so his poor performance was a bit of a surprise, especially considering his ability to hit big shots when the game is on the line.

We saw him hit those shots down the stretch of Game 4 in Chicago, but Saturday night simply was not his night and now, the Nets will think back to Game 4 as the one that they let slip away. And after being ousted by the Bulls in seven games, it is the one that they should rightfully look back upon as costing them their season.

Of all Nets, Gerald Wallace was the one who outperformed the expectations of him. With the Nets trailing by 17 points at halftime, Wallace took the game into his own hands in the third quarter, electrifying the crowd at Barclays, scoring 11 of his 19 points.

When it was all said and done, Wallace was exhausted. Sitting in the locker room afterward, he privately expressed his discontent with his teammates effort in the first half.

“It takes so much energy to come back,” he said. “We put so much energy into that third quarter,” he said when explaining why the Nets seemed to run out of gas down the stretch of the fourth.

“It’s frustrating,” he said.

And frustration is the perfect word to describe Johnson and his demeanor afterward.

His walk from the shower to his locker was slow and deliberate. He took hist time getting dressed, but to his credit, answered every question asked of him.

“It was tough not being able to come through for the guys,” Johnson said. “I was just out there trying to give the guys what I had. Obviously, I didn’t make a lot of shots, but I was just trying to be there to help them out in any form or fashion.”

The questions then turned toward the future for the Nets. Obviously, P.J. Carlesimo’s job situation needs to be resolved, but the Nets are a capped out team whose over-reliance on a soon to be 32-year-old Johnson may not make for a future as bright as the fans of the team would hope.

Although Johnson is still a very productive player, he is on the downside of his career and is owed a cap clogging $69 million over the next three seasons. For better or for worse, he is here to stay.

Whether or not he remains welcomed, though, likely depends on whether or not he is able to come up big when it counts most. And fair or not, despite the game winning shots and the late game heroics, star players need to come up big when it counts most, and on Saturday night, Johnson did not.

The last time Johnson played in a Game 7 was in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. His Atlanta Hawks won in spite of him, not because of him. Johnson shot 4-for-14 against the Milwaukee Bucks and totaled just eight points, six rebounds and four assists in his team’s 95-74 victory.

Hopefully, for the Nets, Johnson fares better in his next two Game 7s than he has in his last two.

When his 3-pointer missed, the Nets season was effectively over.

The buzzer sounded and the shorthanded Chicago Bulls, led by Joakim Noah, celebrated in Brooklyn. The Bulls did the unthinkable as they ended the Nets bid to become the ninth team in NBA history to overcome a 3-1 series deficit. Without three of their top players—Derrick Rose, Luol Deng and Kirk Hinrich—the Bulls defeated the Nets in a win-or-go-home Game 7.

Now, it is on to next season. And if Johnson truly believes that he can be a vital cog on a championship contender, a no-show in a winner-take-all needs to be a one-and-done situation.

“I’m not sure what needs to happen,” Johnson said of the team’s future. “That’s something I’m guessing that we’ll talk about tomorrow.”

And, of course, something that the team will have all summer—an especially long one—to ponder.




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