Back in 2006, Avery Johnson delivered a speech to Sean Payton’s New Orleans Saints during training camp.
“Seize the second.”
“I told them the game is made up of two halves, four quarters and within each quarter are 15 minutes and within those minutes are seconds,” Johnson recalled to the Newark Star-Ledger upon getting hired as the head coach of the New Jersey Nets. “You’ve got to seize every second. You cannot take one second for granted. You can’t take one play for granted. I remember it like it was yesterday.”
He remembers it because the Saints went from being one of the worst teams in the NFL to one of the best that season, advancing all the way to the NFC Championship game. And he continues to use it time and time again, especially with his young Nets team, knowing full-well that they are in the same position the Saints were in four years ago, coming off one of the worst seasons in NBA history with the potential to turn it around.
But that won’t happen unless their leader “seizes the second.” And that’s why Johnson turned to it once more before Tuesday night’s game against the Atlanta Hawks, hoping it would inspire his veteran point guard Devin Harris.
Harris, who had scored just 22 points in his last two games on 6-of-21 shooting, needed to step up if the Nets were going to end their three-game losing streak. He needed to assert himself on both ends of the floor.
Impose his will.
Rise to the occasion.
Or better yet, seize the second.
When all was said and done Tuesday night, Harris didn’t seize every second. But he did seize the most precious ones when it mattered the most.
Harris scored a game-high six points in overtime as the Nets managed to survive blowing a 12-point lead at the end of regulation, beating the Hawks 107-101 at the Prudential Center.
“I just told him to seize every second of the season,” Johnson said of Harris, who finished with 27 points and nine assists in 44 minutes. “We’re worried about April 15. I just talked to him about seizing this opportunity tonight -- and then we’ll worry about Boston, Philadelphia and Portland.”
The Nets started worrying too late about the Hawks, who stormed back at the end of regulation, erasing a seven-point deficit to extend the game an extra five minutes.
That’s when Harris, who came into the game averaging almost 17 points and seven assists, finally decided it was time to seize the second.
After Brook Lopez gave the Nets a two-lead from the tip, Harris knifed through the lane for a finger roll that gave his team a 97-93 lead with 4:16 remaining. And 3:09 later, he single-handedly put the Hawks away for good.
With the Nets up just 100-97, Harris took a pass from Lopez and drained a 3-pointer from the left swing that made it 103-97. Then, on the ensuing Hawks possession, he took a charge on a driving Josh Smith that sealed Atlanta’s fate.
“I thought we had a great practice yesterday,” Harris said. “And we just took that into the game.
“We had the belief that we could win the game in overtime. It starts with leadership and guys looked at me and Brook (season-high 32 points, nine rebounds) and knew we weren’t going to lose this game.”
After getting off to a slow start in the first half (four points, five assists), Harris began seizing the second in the third quarter, connecting on five consecutive shots en route to 13 points.
But his impact was minimal in the fourth as the Nets saw their seven-point lead evaporate with 20.3 seconds left when Joe Johnson knocked down a pair of free throws to tie the game at 93.
It wouldn’t have been surprising if the Nets continued sputtering in overtime and eventually ended up losing a game they failed to close out.
Fortunately, Harris wasn’t about to let that happen.
“I’ve challenged him a lot behind the scenes,” Johnson said. “I’ve talked to him about getting into the paint more [something he was doing in 2007 when Harris finished second in the NBA in production in the paint]. And he got back to doing that tonight.”
It’s no surprise that the Nets are 3-1 when the 27-year-old Harris scores over 20 points. When he elevates his play to the highest level, they win. When he doesn’t, more often than not, they lose.
So that’s why it was important for Harris (9-of-17 shooting, 3-of-7 from 3-point range and 6-of-8 from the free throw line) to take Johnson’s speech to heart and perform the way he did on Tuesday night.
“I take the most criticism,” Harris said. “But I know that’s because I’m an important piece for this team and I have to bring it for us to win.”
Harris not only brought it against the Hawks.
He did what Payton’s Saints did back in 2006.
Seize the second.